Warmer Homes

I was wrong. I previously argued that subsidies for home insulation are an expensive way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The SEAI has now release a post-hoc assessment of the Warmer Homes Scheme. The executive summary puts a brave face on, but if you have a look at the detailed results, you soon discover that the Warmer Homes Scheme seems to have had no noticeable effect on fuel use (and hence emissions), poverty, comfort, or health. Most results are insignificant, a few are significant with the right sign, and a few significant with the wrong sign.

One of the striking results is that the control group (without subsidies) have put in about as much insulation as the intervention group (with subsidies).

The research is not brilliant, so perhaps there is more to it, but for now the conclusion must be that the Warmer Homes Scheme is an expensive way to achieve nothing.

The SEAI should be praised for studying the impact of their interventions and for publishing the results.

67 replies on “Warmer Homes”

@Richard Tol

“I was wrong.”

Sound man Richard! Science is as simple as that.

I wonder how much of it is due to ignorance in Ireland about how to insulate.

Although I’m an ex-pat now, living in the US, I am struck by what appears to be a vent in every single room, letting heat escape to outside. This is madness. Building science says that leaving a low-cfm bathroom fan running continuously, taking little more electricity than a light bulb, is sufficient ventilation of a house. Cutting off unintended air leaks is the necessary first step in insulating, otherwise you’re wasting your money. That’s why they call the federal weatherization program in the US “Cash for Caulkers.”

It is well known that home insulation can be the cheapest way to reduce carbon emissions, but it requires that you know what you’re doing.

Stop the presses.

Politicians splurge taxpayers’ money in wasteful pursuit of ill founded ideological ambitions.

More seriously. To see how to really fail with such a program, read a little about the Australian experience (just google Australia insulation program). The Keystone Cops would have made a better job of it.

Forgot to mention that a man named Tony in Kerry runs an EXCELLENT blog monitoring all these madcap green schemes promoted by Eamon Ryan and SEI.

One of natures wise men , here is the blog…essential reading.


If we could bottle up the hot air that Eamon Ryan produces sure we could warm all of D6 all winter.

The most egregious scam of all has been the Wood Pellet scheme. When the Wood Pellet scheme/scam started not ONE SINGLE PELLET was being produced in Ireland. They were all IMPORTED.

Nor was the technology ready for prime time and half the manufacturers/suppliers have disappeared off the face of the earth.


“The whole system cost €21k and is useless. I have tried it on logs and the only warmth generated is me sweating trying to keep logs in the thing. After 10 hours non-stop the intake temp was only 40 degrees – which for radiators is useless. I am in the process of getting an oil burner installed. I have been in contact – many times with the manufacturer and they happily tell me that I only had a contact with the installer – even though this company is on their website as a recommended partner in Ireland. So as they are happy to tell me that I do not have a contract with them and the installer is gone bust I can amuse myself by rocking on my heels.”


The Cold Snap

“Unless the external heat-gathering pipes in a ground sourced system are buried deeper than a meter, there is every chance that the system could be an “Over – Unity” system – that is, it would take more than a kilowatt of electricity to give a kilowatt of heat.

Air sourced Geo-Thermal with external temperatures of minus 10 degrees centigrade would be nothing short of a joke – dont waste your time turning them on.”

Lots more good stuff there. EamonRyan has never admitted to any of the myriad failings of his schemes or the technologies promoted by his schemes.

That blog is replete with the sad reality of how “Smart” and “Green” ‘work’ in Ireland.

Ryan should concentrate on joined up thinking rather than waffling on primetime like he did last night, what an utter trainwreck that was like Cuffe on Vincenzo a few weeks back. 🙁


Very good of you to post it!

Governments must spend to buy votes. Most of the spending is malinvestment. Let people decide as they get feedback. Governments usually bury it, but the never learn because? …………….. it is OPM!

Other Peoples Money!

Have any of the posters above read the report?

There are five pdfs in the link provided.
The exec summary is very positive and I can’t find the detailed numbers that are vaguely alluded to by Richard.

Richard says:

The SEAI should be praised for studying the impact of their interventions and for publishing the results.

So too, should it be the goal of every state organisation. Eddie Molloy’s observations about self measurement by the department of finance spring to my mind. An article by Lenny Antonelli has some information about the scheme ongoing in Tipperary. But seriously, you saw on news last night the €27 million of DunLaoghaire Rathdown Coco funds tied up in the affordable housing scheme, which unfortunately got wrong footed by the market. Everything to do with the housing market, has been turned inside out. It is simply not fair to judge success or failure of SEAI’s implementation of EPBD, given events in markets in recent past. I would stand up for minister Eamon Ryan on this count, SEAI did a professional job of bringing the EPBD EU wide directive to bear on the market here in Ireland. It is not their fault the market itself went all weird. Antonelli says:

“We can’t convince people in post 1991 houses that they need to upgrade,” says Paul Kenny. He reckons many people think that if they can heat their home adequately, that means its energy efficient. “People don’t have the knowledge of what an energy efficient house is,” he says.


Ok – following up page 19 of pdf 5 appears to be the schedule to focus on.

Basically both groups have achieved savings of approx EUR 100 for fuel oil, which is not significant (depending on how affluent you are) but if the houses are better insulated it is safe to assume that both are more comfortable than before – it would need to have comparisons of temperature before and after to assess.
Logically there are long term saving and comfort implications as fuel prices are only forecast to go one way.

Proving that is a challenge as you need to have detailed information about the pre-intervention situation.

@ Richard,

I recently had cause to study the EPBD implementation action plan of July 2006, which you can download from the link below. Take a look at page 38 in that document for instance. There was a lot of ducks to be arranged in a row to make the entire scheme work. The EPBD was only to deliver reliable information to the market place at a reasonable cost to building owners. I don’t believe the market though has consumed very much of the information to do with energy efficiency, because most ordinary Joe Soap’s are too busy trying to crunch through the numbers pertaining to falling values. There is a lot to be said for a relatively stable property market, if such a thing ever exists. Because then, peoples’ attention can divert laterally into other items on the ‘information stack’ such as comfort. Even buyers of more expensive property, by right, should care about comfort inside a dwelling. It time I am sure they will. BOH.


@ fergaloh,

but if the houses are better insulated it is safe to assume that both are more comfortable than before,

It is save to say, that given some time the residential market in Ireland will incorporate that dimension of ‘quality’ in the product, into their buying decision making rational. It obviously hasn’t happened yet, as I said, because the giant brain that is the market, is too busy crunching through other stuff at the moment, such as negative equity.

@ All,

Karl Deeter speaking on The Front Line on RTE television on April 12th 2010, made something interesting points about housing. BOH. a

@ fergaloh

I don’t have time to read through everything, but I think you may have made a couple of errors in your reading of the results in pdf 5. Any mention in a statistical report of significance refers to Statisical Significance. The report seems to say that for heating oil (very different from fuel oil, incidentally), there was no significant fall in spend for the intervention group (though curiously there was for the control group). Like I said, I haven’t read much of it, so perhaps I’ve missed something.

@ Richard

This is an evaluation of the Warmer Homes scheme, not the Home Energy Savings scheme, the one which was the subject of your previous post.

One is a fuel poverty programme and the other an energy savings programme.

Another thought – comparing fuel expenditure annually isn’t really a particularly good indicator of efficiency if no account is taken of price variances between the periods. Measuring litres of oil would be more meaningful.

Sure, but the fuel price is the same for the control and the intervention groups. There is no difference in the change in fuel expenditure, so no difference in the change of fuel use either.

@ jc, richard,

This is an evaluation of the Warmer Homes scheme, not the Home Energy Savings scheme, the one which was the subject of your previous post.

One is a fuel poverty programme and the other an energy savings programme.

By all means, jc, I take that point [you addressed to richard] on board too. Because I am confusing matters also – by inserting comments about the European wide Energy Performance in Buildings Directive, EPBD, which is a separate matter from either ‘Warmer Homes’, ‘Home Energy Savings’, ‘Low carbon Homes’, ‘Passive homes’, ‘Home energy savings scheme’ (HESS) – the point is, there are lots of strategies being employed by SEI. For someone who is not very familiar with this territory, it must be very confusing indeed.

It is a bit like the trade union organisations – there is one general congress of trade unions, ICTU – with multiples of different organisations, who cater to the needs to different segments of the public service. My own understanding is that the different schemes by the SEAI, take on different kinds of risks [which need to be managed carefully] and aim to solve different kinds of problems. For instance, one scheme was devised to stimulate a low level, nascent industry in Ireland in renewable technologies suitable for deployment at small residential scale. I assume, wood chip boilers etc fell into that. Another scheme was aimed specifically to motivate energy upgrades in public housing stock, where the grant was 100%. Another scheme, the HESS grant I mentioned above, was done in conjunction with the Construction Industry Federation to try and kick start a whole new industry [like small scale renewables], the retrofit industry in Ireland. The Construction Industry Federation have set up a simplified, user friendly ‘retrofit contract’ available from CIF website, and have established a retrofit, energy awareness contractor registration program – which builds on the health and safety registration program also run by the CIF.

So what I am saying is that in any discussion on this whole topic, it is really packed full of different complexities and dimensions to it. That congress of trade unions analogy I gave above, is a very good analogy of what is going on, when you drill done into the energy efficient home industry. It is all aimed at the same ultimate goal, to obtain execution of work done, in a quality and systematically verified fashion, that buys for the island of Ireland, a housing stock which leans away from the frontier of increased fossil fuel dependence, and Co2 contributions on a national level.

Richard, have you consulted with Brian Motherway from SEAI? He has produced a paper recently – I meant to chase it down, but forgot about it – where he describes the economics of doing all kinds of work, from home retrofits, to drilling for gas and oil in Atlantic ocean, to harnessing wave and offshore wind, 20 years down the road. I have seen Brian Motherway present that lecture not so long ago, and I think we should try to view the home energy saving idea, in that wider context. BOH.

@ All,

My own understanding is that the different schemes by the SEAI, take on different kinds of risks [which need to be managed carefully] and aim to solve different kinds of problems.

To add to that, there is another dimension that SEAI have to manage. Another kind of ‘risk’ if you will. SEAI, have to worry that the concept of energy efficiency isn’t brought into disrepute or scandal (not suggesting that we ever do anything wrong in Ireland) by one part of the scheme, being abused by contractors, energy efficiency consultants and what have you.

I mean, I know how the construction industry works from inside to out – and there are a million ways that SEAI could be dragged through the muck, over these kinds of schemes. That is why I had to sit down and study the EPBD legislation, and the resulting national statutory instruments to implement it. I can tell you, the national legislation, is pretty darn water tight to my eyes. And I have seen or experience most of the booby traps existing in the Irish construction game, down through the years. Thumbs up to SEAI. BOH.

WHS as far as I can see was aimed at solving a market failure in the area of access to micro-capital to make even the smallest of improvements to housing quality and comfort levels. As I understand it applicants needed to be means tested. The results are surprising. I did not expect the scheme to be a cheap way of reducing emissions but I did expect it to be effective relative to the do nothing scenario

@ Ahura Mazda,

This is a very true statement from the Deutsche Bank research report:

The real estate industry lacks a universal definition of what constitutes a green building as well as consistent data sources and metrics on green buildings. These deficits make an assessment of the profitability of green building investments difficult and therefore hold back stronger investor interest. Potential misalignments between landlord costs and tenant benefits also hinder faster adoption of green building standards.

Refer to my post above, where I list some of the different kind of standards to do with residential energy efficiency. I can assure you, behind each ‘standard’ of energy efficient house, is a gang of experts who will not give an inch and say their standard is the one to choose. It is basically like a ‘format’ war, between blue-ray DVD, or Sony VHS video tape, or whatever. But I don’t think we will ever get over the format war, as it pertains to housing in Europe. There are all kinds of complexities. For instance, the Passivhaus institute in Germany, the highest standard in the world, is working with their government to change legislation on rates. To calculate rates on property to use ‘net’ floor space area, rather than gross. Because the net floor space area stays the same when you add six inches of external wall insulation or more. But the gross floor area gets larger, which means rates for the property get larger too. You are incentivised by rates taxation not to externally insulate, and incentivised by the passive house standard, to do the opposite. I hope we can avoid those kind of trip-ups when we introduce property taxes in Ireland. But as it is, at Zoe developments I encountered stuff every day, where local authority instructions would conflict with building control, or visa versa. It is easy for people loosely connected with the industry to throw out criticisms in columns in newspapers etc, etc. But they don’t always know fully what is going on.

Remember, we have not even discussed the United States approach to residential construction here. They have had ASHRAE codes for the last 30 years, which relate to mechanical ventilation in residential property. Which by all accounts are pretty darn good at this stage. Now, the Europeans are doing over there telling them to drop all of that, and adopt the new, shiny European codes, which claim to be more energy saving, have more eco-bling and buzzwords etc. The Americans are simply going, no way. It is the same with other stuff – fire codes, earth quake proofing etc, etc. The British and Germany consultants love going out to places such as Beijing and re-writing the local codes completely, to build new projects. Which works in a place like Beijing, where they need to be re-written at times. But in the United States, it simply demonstrates an arrogance. My fear is that Ireland is barking up the wrong tree, when it thinks it can develop the ‘systems’ for management of an fleet of electric cars and sell its services to an export market. But on the other hand, look at Finland which developed the mobile phone and the United States were years catching up. Maybe that was because fixed line telephony was so cheap over in the States, like fossil fuels are for home heating etc. Sure it was the same in the car industry – the big three/four in Detroit got too seduced by only serving to the needs of the domestic market. BOH.

I was indeed gentle on the Warmer Homes Scheme because it served multiple purposes: emissions, poverty, health. I thought it was a bad environmental policy but not necessarily a bad policy.

However, if you read the report (rather than the “summary”), you note that the WHS apparently failed on all three dimensions.

Off topic but very important, the infamous hockey stick graph that purported to show significant global warming,

“The ‘hockey stick’ that became emblematic of the threat posed by climate change exaggerated the rise in temperature because it was created using ‘inappropriate’ methods, according to the head of the Royal Statistical Society.”


I am uneasy about how the control group was put together. These were people who had applied to the warmer home scheme but were not selected. As a result of hearing about the warmer home scheme they had probably done some research, became convinced that insulation and other efficiency measures were a good idea and applied for the grant. When they did not get the grant they then decided that it still made financial sense to go ahead and get some work done. It might be argued that the money invested had twice the impact. Any merit in this argument?

@ Colin

Interesting hypothesis!!

But if they had denied every application and spent no money then wouldnt this have been a better outcome?

From a cursory read of the report these are a few points I have gleaned:

€10.9m spent on the scheme and that covered work on 17,662 households. Households recorded a small savings of €85 per annum on fuel costs. I’m no economist (for sure) but a back of the envelope calculation would mean that 85 x 17,662 is approx a saving of 1.5m per annum. So, my reading is that the scheme would pay for itself in reduced fuel costs in around 7 years. Is that a good deal? Am I being too simplistic with my calculations? (most likely yes is my guess).

Also, the % of households who reported having difficulty paying bills reduced from 48% to 28% – a good result in reducing fuel poverty or not? I’m not adept at interpreting the statistical stuff.

The report mentions that the prices of most fuels increased in the period of the study and that allowances for fuel costs and pensions also increased – it doesn’t seem to me that allowance are made for these in the results – so with more money to spend on fuel and higher fuel costs – I would think that if these variables were held steady the drop in fuel costs would have been greater. I welcome any comments to set me straight on why this is being described as an “expensive way to achieve nothing” when it reads to me like positive results are being achieved. And if this is an expensive way to achieve nothing it begs the question – what would be a better way?

I had a former council house with crap insulation and I installed double glazing
My heating bill stayed the same but instead of wearing a jumper all the time, I was walking around in a t-shirt.

Is there any reason the folks who got the insulation in didn’t do the same? EUR 85 lower bill but much warmer.

@ Al

Maybe, but it was the least well off that were awarded the grants and those who could afford it better that were turned down.

Wouldnt it be, it was the least well of, of those who applied, as opposed to, being the least well off in general?
Would be interesting to have a good look at it!
Was it all farmers?

The control group could simply have suffered from a form of confirmation bias.

Because they were being surveyed about energy use they thought about energy use and modified their behaviour.

Had they not been part of a survey they wouldn’t have thought about it.

Lets tell Eamon Ryan this is what happened and then he will make all of us part of a GIANT survey about energy use. The first survey in the WORLD where everybody participates in a SMART GREEN cognitive bias doublethink exercise.

I believe that I could convince him of the merits of this 🙂


Thanks, but I don’t see why that should negate the positive effects of the scheme? Some people couldn’t afford the improvements so the government paid for them to help reduce fuel poverty. From my reading of the report, the comparison households had a significant increase in installing energy efficiency methods also (a common feature of other studies). So, if the comparison is between households with the scheme against their previous performance (where no measures were put in place or against a similar household that took no measures) then the scheme is a success. That’s the way I read it, I feel I might be missing something, and I don’t expect an economics lesson, but any guidance from yourself or others would be appreciated.

It seems to me a little pointless to change the insulation of a house unless you also change the heating system. My experience of oil-fired systems is that you decide when you want them on and they pump heat into the house until they switch off. As most Irish houses are badly built concrete, you only vaguely heat the internal walls with the three hours in the morning and four in the evening. Keeping (through better insulation) the heat in for an extra two hours of the night or two hours of the day (when people are either asleep or at work) seems entirely pointless.

So what changes would be useful? Well, heating a floor slab to a particualr temperature might make a difference. Could it be that people (like me!) like their geothermal systems because they have modern distribution systems (underfloor heating, thermostatically controlled by room, combined with decent insulation and passive glass) rather than just more of the same insulation?

Has anyone done a study on how long people generally spend in their houses anyway?

@Cairan Daly

The “hockey stick” graph was debunked three years ago at least. A vicious propagandist posing as a scientist used it to scare the horses.

In the meantime we have an “independent expert group” looking into the Welsh scandal. They have apparently cleared the Climate Research Center of any “wrongdoing”. Still makes their findings a load of s**te.

You can’t trust these guys any more than a Goldman Sachs salesman.

@Mokabaybob and Ciaran Daly

Your comments are off-topic but in any case I read the link that was provided and it states:

Lord Oxburgh said the scientists at the research unit arrived at their conclusions ”honestly and sensibly”. But the reviewers found that the scientists could have used better statistical methods in analysing some of their data, although it was unlikely to have made much difference to their results.

Prof Hand the original critic of the graph said that it showed global temperature records going back 1,000 years, was exaggerated – although any reproduction using improved techniques is likely to also show a sharp rise in global warming. He agreed the graph would be more like a field hockey stick than the ice hockey blade it was originally compared to.

That doesn’t sound to me like the findings are a load of s**te and leads me to think that it is you that I should not be trusting.

@Ciaran Daly,

The “denialism” of the Daily Telegraph has gone beyond funny. Read with caution.

This is a “spin” on the House of Lords report clearing the Climate Research Unit of any impropriety in regard to data, arising from the so-called “Climategate” e-mail hack. The RSS made a submission about the methods – not about the results, which are sound. The recommended RSS methods do not give different outcomes, something the Telegraph might have added.

As even the Telegraph grudgingly admits:

“… the review, led by Lord Oxburgh into the research carried out by the centre, found no evidence of ”deliberate scientific malpractice”. “

The “hockey stick” graph was debunked three years ago at least. A vicious propagandist posing as a scientist used it to scare the horses.

In the meantime we have an “independent expert group” looking into the Welsh scandal. They have apparently cleared the Climate Research Center of any “wrongdoing”. Still makes their findings a load of s**te.

You can’t trust these guys any more than a Goldman Sachs salesman.

And there, you have a text-book case of projection.

By the way:

Steve McIntyre recently announced to his readers at ClimateAudit.org that he’s “been doing some mining business in the past few weeks and it’s taken time. I’ll likely do more this year for a variety of obvious reasons.”

He will doubtless resurface at some point to continue his attacks on climate science, so there’s no time like the present to review McIntyre’s role as a climate skeptic over the years.

Steve McIntyre’s ClimateAudit blog

McIntyre maintains the blog climateaudit.org which documents his attempts to find statistical mistakes in peer-reviewed scientific literature.

Steve McIntyre and Fraser Institute Senior Fellow Ross McKitrick (together referred to as M & M) have co-authored two papers claiming to debunk the ‘hockey stick’ graph. The first was published in Energy and Environment which is not carried in the ISI listing of peer-reviewed journals and whose “peer review process has been widely criticised for allowing the publication of substandard papers”.

Their second paper was published in Geophysical Research Letters after an unsuccesful process of trying to publish in the highly-regarded journal Nature. The first paper recieved very little attention outside of climate denier circles and the GRL paper made a minor correction to what was, by then, peripheral to climate science. However, a high-level PR campaign helped place M&M on the front-page in the National Post followed by a front page story in the Wall Street Journal.

McIntyre and Tom Harris

In 2004, Tom Harris produced a film called Climate Catastrophe which featured interviews with McIntyre and McKitrick. At the time, Harris was working for tobacco-industry PR firm APCO Worldwide.

McIntyre and the George Marshall Institute

McIntyre’s two papers have been re-published and distributed by the George C. Marshall Institute – a right wing thing tank that has received $715,000 from Exxon Mobil since 1998. McIntyre is listed on GMI’s website as a round-table speaker. The usual list of Exxon-funded hacks have also been involved with the Marshall Institute, including Sallie Baliunas, Willie Soon, and Patrick J. Michaels.

Additionally, GMI and Competitive Enterprise Institute have invited and arranged for McIntyre and McKitrick to do speaking events in Washington DC and arranged meetings for the pair with legislators. In November 2003, the CEI and GMI invited M&M to speak at a Round-Table on Science and Public Policy series where they were introduced by Jeff Kueter of the Marshall Institute and Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Then in May 2005 the two were brought to DC to speak at the National Press Club, again introduced by Kueter and Ebell (full transcipt here.) That afternoon the pair went to Capitol Hill for a 3pm meeting with undisclosed congressional staffers.

McIntyre and the Canadian Mining Industry

McIntyre worked for 30 years in the mining business. He left the mining company Noranda around 1988 to help found Timmons Nickel. He describes his role in Timmins in his testimony to Canadian Parliment against environmental regulations. Mcintyre then became president of Northwest Explorations which was taken over by CGX Energy in 1998. He also became president of Dumont Nickel, but left Dumont in 2002 to ‘pursue other interests.’ In 2003, CGX Enegy’s annual report listed McIntyre as a “Strategic Advisor,” the same year he first published an article with McKitrick.

According a bio listed on the University of Guelph website, this period involved, among other things, “general corporate management, including specific oversight of company audited financial statements, annual reports, numerous corporate disclosure documents; oversight of exploration programs; direction of several corporate re-organizations.”


@Ciaran, EWI, Toby, Holbrook, Mokabaybob

There are plenty of blogs where you can discuss hockeysticks at length. Please stick to the topic of this thread.

@ fergaloh,

I had a former council house with crap insulation and I installed double glazing
My heating bill stayed the same but instead of wearing a jumper all the time, I was walking around in a t-shirt.
Is there any reason the folks who got the insulation in didn’t do the same? EUR 85 lower bill but much warmer.

The problem is, if one focusses too much on reducing emissions, it tends to conceal the dimension of comfort in upgrading of homes. (See sub-note below on Low carbon housing) Holbrook Fields made an interesting point – the 17,600 homes which were upgraded using funds of almost €11.0 million. Lets assume, that averages at €625 per home. So I am assuming that the occupants put in some of their own money. Attic insulation on its own costs over €1,000. The government wisely chose to leave VAT, value added tax on products such as insulation. It ensures that the SEAI have a paper trail back to the contractor who is registered for VAT and where he purchased his raw materials, who he purchased them from. Do bear in mind all, one of the reasons for the Statutory instrument 666 of 2006 to implement energy ratings for residential property – along with building regulation revisions in 2006 and 2008 for new dwellings – is to avoid a situation, whereby Ireland became a ‘dumping ground’ within the EU for products were are deemed inferior to be used anywhere else in the EU region. Think of it like the taxation on workers, it is a kind of competition, to stay at parity with other countries. Not a little above, or a little below parity with other EU states. Otherwise all kinds of market distortions begin to happen with regards to materials, services, standards and so on. But even trying to establish what ‘standards’ other EU members states work to is hard, because they collect data differently sometimes, and have different regulations. You see?

As a comment, I would observe, that Ireland introduced energy conservation in building regulations 20 years ago, and since then the fuel consumption of buildings has gone down by almost 10%. In other words, a lot of the benefits from energy conservation have already been drawn down through improved construction methods. There is still a way to go, but there is a law of diminishing returns. Bear in mind also, the homes in the 1970s were uncomfortably cold compared to today. People simply put on more layers of clothing in the old days to keep themselves warm. When insulation regulations were introduced, society decided not to conserve fuel so much as enjoy increased set point temperatures in their living rooms and home in general. But even with shedding the clothes when indoors in the last 20 years, and turning up the heating temperature, Ireland still consumes less fuel per house than it did in the 1970s.

Look at the low carbon house standard for instance – the Americans have a version of that. The Americans really rubbed the German institute up the wrong way recently, when it conspired the Americans were using software which curtailed expenditure on insulation, when it met a critical threshold, where the price of Photo voltaic panels was cheaper. This horrified the Germans who were working, not with a low carbon yard stick, but rather the comfort dimension of sustainable construction. The Americans would point out, that PV panels will get cheaper the more large LCD televisions that are manufactured and developed. Because it is basically the same technology for both applications. Lets not forget of course, that computers improved in leaps and bounds because of the global gaming industry’s development. One was able to piggy back on the other.

To my mind, an apartment built in Dublin’s docklands, for someone who works there or somewhere in Dublin city centre, is a low carbon dwelling. But many who study building standards might say the insulation levels of those apartment developments is far, far beneath where it should be. David MacKay, a British professor has done studies to proof that even a journey to the supermarket adds to a persons carbon footprint. Similarly all of the public buildings and offices that we use throughout our daily lives. I mean, realistically, how much time does the average city dweller spend in their apartment? From a carbon saving point of view, it is much to do with transportation to work, and lifestyles. It is wrong to look at the dwelling alone. I blogged something about shopping centres a while back. Link below. Kathleen Barrington wrote in the Sunday Business Post on March 14th 2010 about lease agreements for high street retailers. I think it sums up the problem with regards to peoples’ carbon footprint. They are travelling further to shop and also demand a tropical kind of environment with bright lights etc inside of large regional SC’s.

Secondary high streets, shopping centres and retail parks are already vulnerable because people are travelling further to dominant regional centres rather than the grotty, tired precinct down the road.



David MacKay writes,

I’d like to suggest a one-percent rule for news-articles about energy-saving gadgets or renewable energy systems. The rule says “a gizmo may be discussed only if it could lead to energy savings of at least 1%”. I suggest this rule not because minnow-sized savings are worthless, but because the public conversation about energy surely deserves to be focussed on bigger fish.


@ Holbrook fields,

Thanks, but I don’t see why that should negate the positive effects of the scheme? Some people couldn’t afford the improvements so the government paid for them to help reduce fuel poverty.

My observation is as follows, instead of spreading the €11.0 million over 17,600 homes, which only contributes €625 per home, we should be spending say €10 million on €7,000 homes. That would amount to a subsidy of €1,400 per home. Say if the occupier was able to put in €600 of their own money, paid in installments at low interest rate. And say, the €2,000 total was ‘stretched’ a lot further by innovative means. I.e. Vacating a whole terrace of houses at the same time and housing them temporarily someplace else. Then you could contract a builder to do a large chunk of work together for a more competitive price. I mean, what I am describing is the business model of Zoe developments. But applied to a situation where the occupants are already in place. But one moves them temporarily, gets a blitz team in to do all the work at lowest per unit price, and then moves all the people back in again. If we stay chipping away with roof insulation at €1,000 per house, then the budget gets used up in no time. You get no where in terms of Co2 emission reduction and no very far either in terms of comfort level improvement. In other words, unless we start using ‘shoe box’ kind type of techniques in this, it is a waste of time. I agree with Richard Tol. BOH.

In a modern well insulated house with big windows, up to 50% of the heatloss goes out through the windows and doors.
Double glazed windows, have a very poor insulation value compared to a well insulated wall—–up to ten times less insulation, and doors are also very low, although I havent done any formal analysis on doors yet.
Ordinary curtains, have virtually no insulation value, ditto heavy insulated curtains, due to the way they are deployed—-mounted out on rails, which allow hot room air to sink between the curtain and the wall, the heat is lost through the glass by conduction.
On the other hand, ordinary well fitting blinds can inhibit heat loss by up to 40%.
There is very little information on how to prevent this large heat loss through windows.
The best system is the insulated blind, and insulated roller curtain that I have invented and installed in my own house—–but that is another story !

@ denis,

The best system is the insulated blind, and insulated roller curtain that I have invented and installed in my own house—–but that is another story!

Google video has a one hour length piece, Free Heat for Life: Fundamentals of Affordable Passive Solar Design – Dan Chiras. Now here is the problem. Chiras and his excellent book, The solar house: passive heating and cooling, are packed full of trial and error, common sense logic and learning over decades of real building experience. Chiras and others like him, as I mentioned above have developed knowledge of energy efficiency to apply to projects in all sorts of different climatic conditions across the continent of the USA. Like car manufacture, social networking web technology, telephones, the US market is large within its own borders and tends to do its own thing, have its own standards etc. Here in Europe we are full of little nation states. Each has its own set of rules and standards, its own bureaucracy and ways of doing things. If you were to show Dan Chiras’s ideas to anyone in Ireland, working with any of the various schemes to do with energy conservation in buildings, they would be horrified. For instance, Chiras sets forth some basic rules with regard to building orientation. On the other hand, if you believe the German Passivhaus institute, you need an Excel spreadsheet with about 14 million variables to know which way to orient you dwelling and how much, and where to do glazing. I don’t know. Maybe someone can answer this for me. But we seem to have too many different standards, programs, calculation techniques and voices in the debate with regards to buildings and energy conservation in Ireland. The end result is, a lack of clarity and focus. That is my opinion having looked at it, for what it is worth. The Deutsche bank report that Ahura Mazda linked to above got that much right. The market cannot make up its mind, it is getting way too many mixed signals at the moment. BOH.

P.S. I think Richard Tol would get a giggle or two, from Chiras’s other google video, Re-Energizing America: Rescuing America from its Costly Fossil Fuel Addiction.

@ Denis & all,

The SEAI, CIF and Homebond went together last year to Canada. Canada have been doing this stuff for the last 30 years. Perhaps because their climate is so severe. I mean, our own Duncan Stewart on the television got many of his ideas about sustainable, well designed thermal envelopes from his visits to Scandavia down through the years. Duncan used to talk to myself and other students in Bolton Street about insulation back in the early 1990s, when the building regulations had only been passed into national legislation. Back then though, we had no appreciation as young architectural students for what the heck he was talking about. Check out the Canadian scheme, RET Screen, for your own interest. As the SEAI, CIF and Homebond guys from Ireland recognised in their trip – it is like ‘light regulation’ we have in Ireland – it takes a long time to improve upon that, and learn how to properly regulate an industry. The Canadians have much more experience in both financial and construction industry regulation it appears. Is that to do with the fact they are part of the commonwealth? BOH.


I have not seen a proper solution of how to prevent heat loss through double glazed windows through the use of well insulated and proper fitting blinds and curtains by Duncan or anyone else on the web.
This technology is essential to the optimum functioning of any passive solar house, and could actually lead to a reduction in the insulation thickness of the passive house, as to get a overall acceptable U value, due to the lowering of the average value by the loss through the glazing, one has to over engineer the insulation in the wall component of the house.

@ Denis,

I have not seen a proper solution of how to prevent heat loss through double glazed windows through the use of well insulated and proper fitting blinds and curtains by Duncan or anyone else on the web.

I agree, but Dan Chiras does mention it in his lecture I referred to on ‘free heat for life’. But as I say, guys such as Chiras would not be widely known or rated here in Europe, because they have built up their knowledge through trial and error in the practice of actually building solar homes over decades. In contrast to Europe, where there is its all about ‘sides’ to the argument, over whose standard, or scheme, or calculation methodology is superior. I call it the ‘format wars’ like you see in technology between one standard of Blue ray DVD versus another. Microsoft windows versus windows. Apple versus Dell, etc. It was perfectly natural for Chiras to come up with the solution of window blinds because he is a practical kind of guy working from first principles. I should point out something else too, while I am at it. There was a very long and distinguished ‘off grid’ tradition in the United States, which arose out of the 1960s counter cultural movement over there. As an architect in Feasta in Ireland, Emer O’Siochru made the point to me recently. The off grid movement hampered development in some ways, as ‘green’ as it was. Because the concept of ultra independent living off the grid, denies any attempts at progress which can be explored through advanced ideas on cooperation of the larger community. There is always that conflict at the heart of the 1960s and 70s sustainability movement, which tends to tear it apart, even nowadays. David MacKay is a more recent voice who offers many more suggestions for larger scale cooperation to reduce environmental pollution.

To be honest, even the longest working ecological architects here in the British Isles, guys like Howard Liddell in Scotland or Paul Leech here in Dublin were activated by geopolitical crisises of the 1970s. All of those early guys like Liddell and Leech tried to live off the grid at some stage of their lives. I don’t know, how committed they still are to that extreme position. Probably they have mellowed. Remember the green party, Ciaran Cuffe etc was founded in 1982. Wolfgang Feist etc in Germany started their passivhaus movement in the early 1990s. The scene in the US goes back a lot further in my opinion. You start looking at things like the Whole Earth Catalog, back to the land and all of that movement. Which of course, was connected to the early European movers, via entertaining characters like James Lovelock, who wrote his original thesis, Gaia, here in Ireland in the 1970s. Paul Leech always talks a lot about cybernetics, as does Lovelock. This goes back to Gregory Bateson, Norbert Weiner etc in WWII in the USA. Remember, von Neumann (involved with Feynman, Oppenhiemer etc in the Manhattan project), one of the pioneers in the early computer history in the US believed humans would be able to modify the climate at will, with the new technology they had available post WWII. It was only when he started to study the climate, he began to realise how much more deeply complex it was, than first anticipated. That is when Lovelock etc got into the game, who was trained by the same community of Weiner, Bateson and what became the Sante Fe institute. The point is, the off-grid movement, is something which Dan Chiras is part of – which means, Chiras derives his design philosophy in a different way to those in Europe do. More practical, more independent, its a political/cultural/spiritual difference really. One of the early off-grid guys still has his website up (See also above to my reference to a recent clash of ideologies between the US and Passivhaus, over the subject of how to reduce Co2 emissions from residential building stock). The US guys have been big into solar PV, and life on about 7 KWh per day quite comfortably, off the grid.



About veering off-topic, point taken, apologies.


Thanks for the info you provided – will have to return to this when I have more time to explore the topic further.


Point taken. “He started it” is my excuse.

Given that two interesting articles on climate science/ “green” economics hve been published recently, perhaps you could start a new thread by delivering you opinion on either, or both?

1. Paul Krugman’s article:


2. The Economist



Moving back to the point.
We just did a large rennovation.
The insulation support and all that were there,
But we didnt go for it.
We presumed that the ‘intervention’ by the government was more or less the inflation in the cost.
I did the work myself.
Having done a floor to wall to roof insulation job, I would be curious as to the standards of craftwork and finishing that exist out there!

@ Al,

Having done a floor to wall to roof insulation job, I would be curious as to the standards of craftwork and finishing that exist out there!

I have huge respect for people who take on this kind of work. I met Paul McNally, an architect I have known for years one day in Dublin – Oh, it must be a few years back now. But his mate had bought a house and retrofitted himself. Paul was on his way that day to give him a hand on a Saturday. I must say, when you read Paul’s feature piece in Construct Ireland magazine, you get the idea that Paul has actually done the ‘hands on’ himself. BOH.


On the study itself…if I read it correctly the one area with positive outcome was hospitalization cost, which reduced for the intervention group. Is it possible that this was impacted by a low number of cases? Hospitalization can have very high cost, so a few cases could distort all the averages. For the other parameters it’s indeed surprising that they had such wishy-washy outcomes, and a tribute to creative writing when you compare the exec summary to the detail.

Anyway, I read most (but I confess I didn’t read all) of the documents and didn’t see any commentary on them removing outliers that might confirm my suspicion about the hospitalization costs distorting the averages… is that a possible explanation for the single positive result?


I wouldnt really put myself in that catagory…

What surprised me was the amount of time, planning and seting out involved in creating a seamless fabric of insulating material, be it sheet or roll.
I would query what a honest costing of the job done right would compare to the market effort where price competition ultimately places time constraints on finishings and presumably quality.

Also there needs to be a hell of alot more work done of improving research and methodology of what housing stock we have, rather than this distraction unto super houses.
Or maybe not…

@ Al,

check out the document published by dept. of Environment some time. It is kind of the best reference around at the moment, which speaks a lot of the difficulties and challenges you describe in doing the job correctly. The document was compiled by several experts in the industry, with experience over many years trying to achieve the highest thermal efficiency standards. Perhaps veering more towards the ‘super house’, but still with some application to many daily situations (where you rightly point out, the constraints of time come into play hugely).


You state, “One of the striking results is that the control group (without subsidies) have put in about as much insulation as the intervention group (with subsidies)”

Yet,to be fair to the SEAI, the report clearly explains that this is not a controlled experiment. It says, “It is important to state that the research has not been operationalised as a ‘case control’ study, given the problems in matching households on specific criteria.”

The ‘comparison’ group was chosen on the basis that they failed to meet the criteria for inclusion in the Warmer Homes Scheme. This is the very opposite of a controlled trial; two groups carefully selected to be different from each other.

A control group is functional if it is either randomised or a matched sample. In this case we have two completely separate demographics compared. We can see for example that members of the ‘comparison’ group compared to the intervention group were:
* 41% less likely to live in detached houses
* 43% less likely to be living on benefits
* 76% more likely to have secondary education
* 82% more likely to be located in Cork

So what the study really tells us is that one demographic has different behavior from another. Not so earth-shattering.

I will ask the SEAI for their data and see if I can draw any useful conclusions from it. I would urge others to do the same.

It is rational (and widespread observable practice) that individuals in well-insulated houses will keep the internal heat higher on average than individuals in poorly-insulated houses. It has to do with marginal versus fixed costs of heating. Due to the physics of heat transfer this effect is not dependent on the outside temperature as long as it is below the preferred internal temperature. See David Friedman’s classic treatment:

So the economic value of improved insulation has to take account of the fact that well-insulated houses are more comfortable places given rational budgeting. Is this accounted for in these metrics?

@ Olaf,

The ‘comparison’ group was chosen on the basis that they failed to meet the criteria for inclusion in the Warmer Homes Scheme. This is the very opposite of a controlled trial; two groups carefully selected to be different from each other.

Is this like in testing drugs, where they collect patients who have specific sympthoms and treat one group with the new treatment, and another with a placebo (but where none of the participants in the trial actually know which they are on)? BOH.

@ Gregory Connor,

So the economic value of improved insulation has to take account of the fact that well-insulated houses are more comfortable places given rational budgeting. Is this accounted for in these metrics?

A couple of random comments. I believe as peoples’ livestyles and work practices change in the coming years, heck, even as the age of society in Ireland changes over the coming years, the comfort factor in a house will change in ‘weight’. As I mentioned above, in the 1970s people were frozen in their houses and society accepted it. If you go back further, in the late 19th century and first half of the 20th century, people used to wrap up in woolen garments all day long inside their homes. You only have to look at the old photographs. I remember reading Peter Schewe’s book, The Grid, where the tsars in Moscow used to import coal from Wales to power a few Edison light bulbs in the emperial palace around the turn of the 19th and 20th century. Clearly, Lenin couldn’t keep importing coal from Wales to run light bulbs. There is a very interesting account of the Soviet electrification program given in Schewe’s book. In Denmark, they do use a lot of their wind generated electricity in simple room heaters. But that is made feasible by the fact their apartments are constructed to such high standards, and the heating load is so small. In Denmark also, they have community heating systems, where they used electricity from wind generation to power heat pumps to take thermal energy out of lakes and water courses and pump it around villages and towns. Denmark is expanding that kind of idea.

But back in the 1970s or earlier, there was no idea to have young entrepreneurs, there was no telecommuting, no broadband service. All there was, was a boat or plane ticket out of the country. When I grew up in the 1980s in rural west Limerick, you would see some localities, where houses had simply been abandoned as whole families left and moved to another country. There simply wasn’t the value put on properties there was later on. In the Celtic Tiger years, the opposite happened, those same houses became valuable all of a sudden, because planning permission for a dwelling in the countryside was a non-trivial matter, and there was demand in the market. But the problem was, in the Celtic Tiger, people began to look at property as a savings plan, a pension plan, an investment plan in itself. There were dozens of TV programs explaining to people that if you retrofitted the property to look nice, it would add value to the house, and therefore you could become rich. So all the old houses in rural west Limerick (and many other locations around the country) were subjected to what I call ‘bling retrofits’. Now that the capital in the tens of thousands of euro for ‘bling retrofits’ has been spent, the weird thing is, there is a second wave coming, where the same houses are expected to be eco-retrofitted. My only question is, where is the next wave going to come from? It seems to me, to find the most effective deployment of scarce capital, Ireland needs a joined up housing retrofit policy. It was auctioneers and a sales/speculative culture that drove the first wave of ‘bling’ retrofitting. We need all of these people to talk to one another. Ideally speaking, the architectural profession is meant to be the joined up thinker in all of this. But heck, in Ireland who listens to architects? BOH.

@ Gregory Connor,

By David Friedman’s rational, then homes in nice warm conditions, may in fact be poorly constructed, compared to homes in extreme cold conditions. I have always had my own suspicions about this. I am familiar with a very interesting project, the Caribbean Disaster Mitigation Project, which provides a whole range of advice for construction in those areas. Check out things such as, Safer Building Toolkit for Credit Unions, and Hazard-resistant Construction, if you browse around the link below. To be honest, no website could ever produce such explicit structural blueprints and specifications for construction in other parts of the world (there would be uproar from vested interests such as engineers and architects). But I guess, what the disaster mitigation project is aimed self-builders who operate without formal code and practice. It is interesting though in Ireland, with our own impending ‘disaster’ in the form of dependence on gas imports, who much good technicial guidelines and literature have made it into the public domain, like the one I linked above for Al. Bear in mind, that in Ireland and UK, for decades now the professionals have been in charge of building standards and have not managed to produce anything like the same general awareness and availability of information, on good construction practice as we have seen, since energy independence became such a hot potato. BOH.


WRT to energy efficency, it can be argued that improvements in energy efficiency without appropriate behavioural change leads to increase in energy consumption, aka Jevons Paradox. As an earlier poster suggested (improvement to his ex-stock council house, did not reduce his energy bill).
The cheaper we make energy, the more energy will be consumed both directly and indirectly.

For those interested, university of Sussex SPRU185 energy, growth and sustainability (five propositions) has an interesting take on this. The five proposition are;
Rebound effects are significant and limit the potention fo decoupling energy consumption from economic growth (aka Jevons Paradox)
The contribution (price) of energy to economic growth has been greatly underestimated
Energy efficiency needs to be complimented by an attitude of sufficient / enough (as opposed to affluence)
Sustainability is incompatible with continued economic growth in rich countries (resources limits in a physically finite world)
A Zero-growth economy is incompatible with a debt based monetary system.

All in light of the impending oil crunch in the next 3-5 years.

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