David Fletcher: Energy efficient homes make big difference

THERE are ways to cut the cost of keeping warm, writes David Fletcher

High energy bills impact significantly on our social housing tenants. Picture: Contributed

We all worry about keeping our home warm as the mercury falls and temperatures plummet during the winter months. For many, it can be a stressful time keeping on top of energy bills with household budgets stretched and mortgages or rents to pay.

At Wheatley Group – Scotland’s leading housing, care and property-management organisation – we know the impact rising fuel bills and keeping homes warm has on our customers and that’s why we are investing in technology to tackle these issues head on. In particular, high energy bills impact significantly on our social housing tenants, many of who are already feeling the financial strain. It’s wrong that anyone should be left with the choice to eat or heat, but for some that is the reality. What more could social landlords, energy providers, governments and other agencies do to prevent this?

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Our social landlords at Wheatley – GHA, Cube, Dunedin Canmore, West Lothian Housing Partnership and Loretto Housing – are finding new ways to mitigate rising energy costs and help people make their money go further.

We’ve been involved in a number of ground-breaking partnerships to help address these concerns. District heating and renewable energy schemes offer significant benefits for customers and housing providers.

A partnership with Scottish Gas and SSE allowed Cube to overclad the multi-storeys and low-rise blocks to improve energy-efficiency.

Another partnership saw Lowther Homes, which provides mid and full-market properties for rent, and GHA upgrade a multi-storey block in Ibrox, Glasgow.

A £1 million grant from the Community Energy Savings Programme, in partnership with Scottish Power, enabled a combined heat and power engine to be built a stone’s throw from the flats. Of course, energy-efficient heating systems alone won’t end fuel poverty. Buildings need to be maintained and upgraded to ensure they remain warm and dry. The combination of district heating systems with external wall insulation, new windows and new or upgraded roofs means we can make our homes more energy efficient.

Cube, in partnership with British Gas, is investing £10.6m in homes in Glasgow’s Broomhill, Gorget and Maryhill neighbourhoods. The biomass heating systems run on wood pellets rather than fossil fuels, making them more environmentally friendly. Elsewhere, Dunedin Canmore, working with the City of Edinburgh Council and its communities, delivered a £6 7million regeneration project to create sustainable housing in the Moredun Park and Hyvots areas of South Edinburgh. Energy-efficient initiatives included solar hot water, solar PV and communal heating. Nearly 300 homes were refurbished to a highly energy-efficient standard meaning low energy bills for residents. Dunedin Canmore has nearly 1,000 homes heated by communal heating schemes.

Wheatley Group has joined other housing groups to launch Our Power – a non-profit energy company which aims to save disadvantaged communities around £11m on their energy deals over the next five years. At the same time, we offer a free in-house fuel advice service to tenants to help them get access to the cheapest energy tariffs and arrange low-cost repayments. We can’t do much about the weather but by being less reliant on the Big Six, embracing technology and continuing to invest in our homes we can make a significant difference to tenants’ lives.

• David Fletcher, Wheatley Group Director of Regeneration