Improving the energy efficiency of Edinburgh’s homes is a long-term solution for rising energy bills

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Robin Peters
CEO & Co-Founder
Our research sought to understand the options Edinburgh’s homeowners have when it comes to making their spaces more energy efficient - and the financial implications of these in both the short and long term.

There’s no silver bullet or one-size-fits-all approach - that’s why we’ve split our research out into different housing ‘tribes’, catering to the various possibilities Edinburgh’s homeowners have when it comes to making energy efficiency changes.

We know that the upfront costs of making energy efficiency changes to your home can be daunting, but help is at hand. We can support you in sourcing grants and other financing options. Our research has also shown that the benefits far outweigh the costs when the increase in property value is factored into the equation.

Improving the energy efficiency of Edinburgh's homes is a long-term solution for rising energy bills

As the UK’s cost of living crisis worsens and energy bills continue to soar, the financial pressure facing households requires urgent action. Two-thirds of UK households are expected to be pushed into fuel poverty by January 20231, with 24 million people reporting that they’re cutting back on their gas and electricity usage as a precaution.2

But while many people are choosing to turn down the thermostat or put on an extra layer of clothing to postpone switching on the heating, these are short-term responses - not a long-term solution.

We need to address the wider issue

The problem is, the UK has some of the oldest housing stock in Europe. Research from the Institute for Government (IfG)3 reveals that our homes rank amongst the worst in Europe for energy efficiency. It doesn’t matter how much we turn down our thermostats, if huge portions of our energy is going to end up being wasted through leaky roofs and draughty doors.

This is a UK-wide issue and sadly Edinburgh’s properties are no exception

Snugg analysed the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of the city’s homes, to understand how energy efficient they are. EPCs give a building a rating from A (very efficient) to G (very inefficient). The Government’s target is to ensure as many homes as possible are rated C or better by 2035.4

According to our analysis, 110,000 (47%) of the city’s homes have an EPC rating worse than C (source: effini). From elegant Georgian terraces to classic tenements, this is a city of some of the UK’s most striking architecture. Yet in too many cases these buildings are poorly-insulated, reliant on out-of-date heating systems, and costing residents ever more to keep warm.

What’s more, the type and age of our homes has a huge impact on the kinds of changes you might make to improve it. Guidance issued from Government and energy providers tends to be generic and isn’t accurate to every house type - a typical Georgian home with draughty windows requires a very different approach to a mid-century home with uninsulated cavity walls, for example.

The good news is we have the power to change things. Taking measures to improve the energy efficiency of our homes could save people in Edinburgh a total of £95m annually (source: Snugg modelling; see methodology). From simple solutions that take minutes and cost a matter of pounds - such as fitting draught excluders or switching to low-energy light bulbs - to structural improvements such as roof insulation or boiler upgrades, there’s something that everyone can do.

These efficiency improvements aren’t only helpful from a financial perspective - 21% of the UK’s CO2 emissions come from our homes, so improving efficiency is vital for the environment too.7 Improving the energy efficiency of our homes is critical to the UK meeting its net-zero targets, and our analysis shows that doing so in Edinburgh alone could save 245,000 tonnes of carbon annually - the equivalent to the weight of all the cars in the city. With the UK severely off track when it comes to reaching its carbon-cutting targets,8 these are savings we simply can’t afford to miss out on.

A personalised approach to home energy efficiency

At Snugg, we believe in taking a personalised approach to home energy efficiency.

Some of the actions you can take to save money on energy bills, increase the value of your home, and reduce your carbon emissions are quick fixes that everyone can do, whatever type of property you live in. For instance, switching your incandescent light bulbs to low-energy light bulbs is a simple job that could save you up to £15 per bulb per year.9 And draught-proofing windows and external doors could save the average home around £60 a year.10

But there are other improvements that are unique to your property type, or Tribe.

Homes in Edinburgh tend to fall into one of five Tribes

Each Tribe comes with its own energy efficiency pros and cons. Perhaps you’re living in an 18th century Georgian property that’s overdue an upgrade to double-glazed windows. Or maybe you're excited by the possibility of installing solar panels onto your new build’s roof.

Getting the most value for money - as well as generating the biggest possible carbon savings - means understanding your Tribe, and the specific improvements you can make that are going to be most impactful.

Whatever Tribe you’re part of, our report breaks down the energy challenges - and opportunities - you might be facing, and what you can do about them.

Investing in energy efficiency can make sense for everyone - but to understand the benefits, we need to take a holistic view

Before we get into the specific energy efficiency improvements that can be made, it’s important to consider the financial case.In the current market, the cost-benefit analysis of investing in energy efficiency improvements for your home tends to focus on the immediate savings on your energy bills.

But while these savings are important - and can still be in the hundreds, or even thousands, of pounds, depending on the changes you’ve made - when taken alone it’s often difficult to make a strong financial case for investing. For example, topping-up your loft insulation may save you around £40 a year on your bills, depending on your property, but at an upfront cost of almost £400 it will take some time for you to make that money back, even with today’s higher fuel prices (based on HEC modelling for topping-up loft insulation in an Edinburgh bungalow). On this basis, you can see why many of us would struggle to justify such an investment, especially during a cost of living crisis.

But these savings are not the full picture, and by focusing on them we risk missing out on the much bigger opportunity. In order to appreciate the true value of investing in your home, there are other factors we need to look at too - in particular the increase in property value. Improving your homes’ energy efficiency has a direct impact on its market valuation and, as you can see from the table below, could increase your home’s value by nearly £17,000.

The possible rewards

Tribe
Annual energy saving
CO2 saving (t)
Increase in property value
Gorgeous Georgians
£497
0.96
£4,970
Toasty Tenements
£723
1.37
£7,230
Breeze-Free Bungalows
£1,672
4.63
£16,720
Mid-Century Marvels
£881
2.82
£8,810
Nifty New Builds
£237
0.77
£2,370
This table shows the potential reward, per household, based on implementing a tailored selection of energy efficiency improvements (based on property type). Please see the methodology for further detail.
245,000 tonnes

Total annual CO2 saving across Edinburgh

When looked at over a longer-term period of ten years, the benefits become even more compelling:

Over 10 years

Tribe
Cost of improvements
10-year benefits
Gorgeous Georgians
£8,227
£17,290
Toasty Tenements
£8,850
£21,726
Breeze-Free Bungalows
£32,225
£52,157
Mid-Century Marvels
£21,461
£29,934
Nifty New Builds
£6,517
£6,563

Lastly, it’s important to think about the changes that are coming in the future:

Grants

The government is likely to expand its coverage of grants in the short to medium-term future. For example, ECO+ could offer anyone who lives in a home in council band A-D financial support in making energy efficiency improvements, irrespective of their income.

Financing costs

Green finance deals are already available, offering mortgages with lower interest rates to those who can demonstrate they're investing in the efficiency of their home. Look out for more innovation in this space.

Cashback

Some banks are already offering ‘green reward’ cashback offers, providing cash rewards to those who purchase a more energy efficient property.

Carbon credits

Although these are a little further down the line, reducing the amount of carbon that a home uses has real value, and some companies are likely to pay for this. The market for voluntary carbon credits is evolving, but if a household could save 2t per annum, this could be worth £500-£1,000 to a company that needs to buy carbon credits to offset their emissions.

In this report, we’ve taken a holistic view of the financial benefits associated with energy efficiency improvements, showing how - when considered in the long-term - investing in home efficiency can turn from a ‘no-hoper’ into a ‘no-brainer.’

Gorgeous Georgians

18,288

Number of homes in tribe

59%

% with EPC rating worse than “C”

20%

% with potential for 2 or more EPC level improvement

Source: effini

Gorgeous Georgians

Illustration of a Georgian house

The Georgian era produced some of Edinburgh's most distinctive homes.

Inspired by elements of Roman and Greek architecture, Gorgeous Georgians are known for their symmetrical layout, high ceilings, and ornate windows and doorways.

Built from the late 1700s up to around 1850, these historic buildings are centuries old - but though they’re incredibly elegant, they usually have very poor energy efficiency. Generally fairly large properties, Gorgeous Georgians are very susceptible to draughts thanks to their large single-glazed windows, through which a great deal of heat is able to escape. They’re also built with solid walls, which are much less insulated than more modern buildings with cavity walls, due to the fact that heat passes through solid material at a faster speed than through a cavity.

1 in 5 (20%) owners of a Gorgeous Georgian have the opportunity to improve the EPC rating of their home by two or more levels. However, because these properties are often listed buildings, planning constraints can mean that improvements are costly and difficult to implement.But don’t despair. There are still things that can be done…

If you do only one thing

Install secondary glazing

Offering a good alternative to double glazing - which, for listed buildings may come up against planning restrictions - secondary glazing is an efficient way of improving the heat retention of your windows. It works by installing a second, internal window alongside your existing window. It also makes your home more secure, and reduces noise pollution.

Plan for the future

Connect with local planning groups

Facing planning restrictions? The good news is, you're not alone. Since Edinburgh has so many historic buildings, many other owners of traditional properties are likely to be coming up against similar challenges too. It’s a good idea to get in touch with Historic Environment Scotland, which can provide advice on how to apply for listed building consent when making changes to your home.

Get your free personalised property energy efficiency recommendations now

Toasty Tenements

18,087

Number of homes in tribe

57%

% with EPC rating worse than “C”

16%

% with potential for 2 or more EPC level improvement

Source: effini

Toasty Tenements

Illustration of a tenement

Traditional stone tenement buildings were constructed across many Scottish cities, including Edinburgh, in response to the 19th century Scottish housing crisis. Generally three or four storeys high, with thick stone walls and slated roofs, these purpose-built flats were designed to provide homes to large working-class families - and are an iconic feature of the city’s landscape.

But at over a century old, these historic buildings have their fair share of energy efficiency challenges.

The majority of tenements have uninsulated solid walls and lofts, poorly-insulated floors and old double glazing. And as tenement flats tend to be fairly small, owners often find that they’re limited in terms of the improvements they can make; installing wall insulation would reduce already limited floor space, for example, while loft insulation is only an option for top-floor flats.

But although Toasty Tenements have their limitations, there are still things you can do to make a difference.

If you do only one thing

Install A-rated glazing (uPVC)

Although Toasty Tenements have double glazing, it’s usually old and fairly inefficient. Installing modern A-rated glazing - the most effective type of double glazing - is an affordable way of boosting the efficiency of your flat, keeping draughts out and heat in.

Plan for the future

Look into district heating initiatives

District heating offers a solution for the supply of low-carbon heat to homes (and businesses) across a network. It means that rather than having an individual boiler per building, heat is delivered from a centralised energy centre. Currently, about 2% of UK homes are connected to a district heating network but more are expected to come. 12 One to keep an eye on is Vattenfall, which recently launched its plan to introduce district heating to Edinburgh in order to cut the city’s carbon emissions and make its homes cheaper to run.

Get your free personalised property energy efficiency recommendations now

Breeze-Free Bungalows

4,526

Number of homes in tribe

89%

% with EPC rating worse than “C”

55%

% with potential for 2 or more EPC level improvement

Source: effini

Breeze-Free Bungalows

Illustration of a bungalow

Perhaps a less famous - but no less recognisable - feature of the city are Edinburgh’s bungalows.

Built between 1914 and 1944, although these homes are a newer addition to the city’s landscape than their historic counterparts, many still have ageing, inefficient infrastructure. Luckily, there’s plenty of opportunity to make improvements, since Breeze-Free Bungalows have the benefit of easy access and limited planning restrictions.

So what should you consider? As these homes are detached, there’s plenty of space to think about loft and wall insulation. As a further defence against heat loss, Breeze-Free Bungalow owners may also wish to consider installing floor insulation. This works in a similar way to wall insulation, by adding layers of insulating materials beneath a property’s floorboards to prevent heat from escaping through the floor into the ground. According to the Energy Saving Trust, installing suspended wooden floor insulation in a bungalow could save you £195 a year on energy bills.13

If you do only one thing

Install floor insulation

Install floor insulation to prevent heat from escaping through the floor of your bungalow and into the ground.

Plan for the future

Carry out a full home retro-fit

Commission a specialist to develop a plan that will transform the energy efficiency of your whole home. This could include measures such as wall insulation, floor insulation, and installing an air-source heat pump.

Get your free personalised property energy efficiency recommendations now

Mid-Century Marvels

31,906

Number of homes in tribe

59%

% with EPC rating worse than “C”

46%

% with potential for 2 or more EPC level improvement

Source: effini

Mid-Century Marvels

Illustration of a mid-century house

By far the largest proportion of Edinburgh’s housing stock comes from its post-war houses, which were built between 1950 and 2002.

Although most of Edinburgh’s post-war housing was built with double glazing and loft insulation as standard, there’s still considerable opportunity for these properties to be made more efficient. In fact, in spite of being built far more recently, Mid-Century Marvels rank on par with Gorgeous Georgians when it comes to EPC rating (amongst both Tribes, 59% have an EPC rating worse than C).

As for where energy efficiency improvements can be made?

As Mid-Century Marvels encompass flats, detached, semi-detached, and terraced homes, the opportunity differs depending on your type of property. For instance, if your home is semi-detached or terraced, you may want to consider party wall insulation, as it’s likely that the air gap between the properties is creating a flow of cold air and causing warm air from inside your home to escape.

Alternatively, if your home is detached or end-terraced, you have a bit more space to consider other options.

If you do only one thing

Develop a tailored plan

As the opportunities vary across this Tribe, it’s best to take things on a case-by-case basis. Use an energy efficiency expert, like Snugg, to develop a personalised plan based on the starting point of your individual home, so that you can consider the best payback for each potential investment.

Plan for the future

Think about a heat pump

New legislation rules out replacing gas boilers when they get old, so when this happens you could consider installing an air-source heat pump, which extracts heat from the air to heat your home. At more than £10,000 to install, heat pumps still come at a significant upfront cost at the moment; however costs are coming down and Government grants are available.

Get your free personalised property energy efficiency recommendations now

Nifty New Builds

2,535

Number of homes in tribe

4%

% with EPC rating worse than “C”

5%

% with potential for 2 or more EPC level improvement

Source: effini

Nifty New Builds

Illustration of a new-build house

Lastly, we’ve looked at Edinburgh’s new build properties. These currently make up the smallest proportion of Edinburgh’s housing - although this is set to change as new developments spring up around the city.

Built post-2003, modern-day building regulations mean that new build flats and houses are purpose-built to be far more energy efficient than older properties. This is achieved through a range of building techniques and materials, including better-quality wall and roof insulation, modern heating systems, and greater airtightness, leading to reduced draughts. As a result, our analysis shows that only 4% of Edinburgh’s new builds are rated D or worse for energy efficiency.

But this isn’t to say there’s no room for improvement. Four out of five (81%) of these homes still have the opportunity to further improve their energy efficiency by another EPC level.

Fitting solar panels to your roof is one way of doing this. Also known as photovoltaics (PV), solar panels capture energy from the sun and turn it into electricity you can use to power your home. Since sunlight is free, it means that once you’ve paid for installation, your energy bills are significantly reduced, along with your carbon footprint. The Energy Saving Trust estimates that a typical home solar PV system could save around one tonne of carbon per year.14

If you do only one thing

Install solar panels

Fitting solar panels to your Nifty New Build will reduce your bills, meaning you’ll see payback on the cost of installation within several years. There’s also the option to make money by selling any surplus power generated back to the National Grid.

Plan for the future

Think about a heat pump

As with Mid-Century Marvels, it’s worth looking into your home’s suitability for a heat pump. The Government grant scheme works on a first come, first served basis, so even if replacing your boiler isn’t something you need to do at the moment, it’s a good idea to investigate your options early on.

Get your free personalised property energy efficiency recommendations now

Conclusion

In a complex and fragmented market, it’s difficult for homeowners to identify the energy efficiency improvements they need to make - not least when they vary so much depending on the type of property you live in. And because no one is making the case for the long-term benefits of home energy improvement, it’s even harder to justify the financial case for doing so.

That’s why it’s so crucial that we look at the full picture.

Our analysis shows that, for forward-thinking homeowners, there are already steps that can be taken to realise some of the many benefits of going green.

So, where do you start?

No-brainers

Replace any remaining incandescent light bulbs with low energy light bulbs
Draught-proof your windows and doors
Get a personalised energy efficiency plan

At snuggenergy.com you'll get tailored recommendations, helping to cut bills, lower emissions and boost the value of your home.

At Snugg, our mission is to make home energy efficiency simple and affordable. And you can be part of that too. The important thing is for everyone to start thinking long-term - it’s not only good for the planet, but your pocket could thank you as well.

Get your free personalised home energy efficiency plan

Get a free personalised plan to help reduce your energy bills and prepare for a greener future.

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Methodology

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The analysis is based on a publicly available database of energy performance certificates (EPCs) in Edinburgh.

All data on potential energy savings is based on Snugg analysis, using Energy Saving Trust modelling software.

All data on potential house price increase is based on Snugg modelling.

Total potential saving across homes in Edinburgh of £95m annually calculated based on the total number of properties which have the potential to increase EPC rating by one or more levels, and the corresponding average energy saving (after the upfront cost of implementing energy efficiency improvements).

Fig. 1 - ‘The possible rewards’ (page 3): The potential benefits per household of implementing a range of energy efficiency improvements (as applicable to property type), in respect to: annual energy saving; CO2 saving (t); increase in property value.  

Energy efficiency improvements modelled were based on eligibility of property type for specific interventions (including eligibility under planning restrictions), and included:

  • Draught proof your external doors
  • Draught proof your windows
  • Install a gas condensing boiler
  • Install an air source heat pump
  • Install A-rated glazing (uPVC)
  • Install cavity wall insulation
  • Install party wall insulation
  • Install solid floor insulation
  • Install solid wall insulation
  • Install suspended wooden floor insulation
  • Replace last remaining incandescent light bulbs with low energy light bulbs
  • Time and temperature zone control
  • Top-up your loft insulation
  • Upgrade heating system components
  • Install hot water tank insulation and new controls

Fig. 2 - ‘Total annual CO2 saving (t) across Edinburgh’: Figure based on the total number of Edinburgh households that could increase their EPC rating by one or more levels (source: effini) and corresponding reduction in CO2 (source: HEC analysis).

Fig. 3 - ‘Over ten years’ (page 4): The potential cumulative benefit per household of implementing the same selection of energy efficiency improvements as Table 1 (see above), extrapolated over a ten-year period.

Appendix and project credits

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Snugg

Snugg’s mission is to help accelerate the UK’s transition to net zero carbon emissions by making energy-efficient homes simple and affordable for everyone.

We're developing an online platform that provides a personalised home improvement plan based on your home's current performance. To help implement the plan, we connect you to grants, financing options and trusted local installers.

Snugg is a well-funded and fast-growing startup based in Scotland’s data science and innovation capital, Edinburgh.

Effini

Effini delivers innovative data and AI solutions for forward-thinking and ambitious organisations. We unlock the opportunities data can bring to help you scale and grow, while ensuring strong data governance and management foundations create a robust and strong foundation. From strategic plans to machine learning systems, we aim to create a positive and lasting impact on your business.