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James Parker looks ahead to April and the launch of the ECO+ scheme

You have heard of ‘a good day to bury bad news,’ well is there a similar phenomenon of ‘too much bad news that the good gets lost in the noise’?

Of course, mainstream media isn’t all that interested in good news, but with so many grim tidings around at the moment, you would think that even they would have given the ECO+ scheme announcement a bit more of an airing!

As we all sit freezing at our desks (not to go all Bob Cratchit, but yours truly is typing this with fingerless gloves), the sometimes hard-to-pinpoint excitement generated by the idea of home insulation suddenly becomes palpable.

Working and living in thermally sub-standard properties gives you an acute sense of the importance of such humble things as appropriate building fabric.

However, with so much talk about the need to ensure people do not have to choose between ‘heating and eating’ in future, the timeliness of the ECO+ initiative (no coincidence) should have given it a bigger news platform.

Launching earlier could have enabled some to protect their homes against this winter’s ravages

James Parker James Parker Editor of Architect’s DataFile and Housebuilder & Developer

ECO success

There have been a variety of ECO (standing for Energy Company Obligation) schemes (four in total) since its launch in 2013, back in the days when the Zero Carbon Hub existed, and the Code for Sustainable Homes had yet to be scrapped.

Designed to tap the energy companies’ colossal profits and provide homeowners on lower incomes (and those with hard-to-treat properties) with energy efficiency upgrades, the first scheme saw a swathe of (in particular) external wall installations across the nation’s housing estates, however also a lot of cavity wall insulation upgrades, and gas boiler installations!

Overall, it was generally seen as a success, paid for by the Government and the energy providers.

Millions could benefit

Since 2013, around 2.4 million homes have been retrofitted with insulation measures to up their performance, and 97% of these have been via the ECO programme.

This new ECO+ is funded to the tune of £1bn, and seeks to bring in a much wider variety of consumers than its immediate predecessor, the ECO4 scheme, which was targeted at people in fuel poverty.

This time, as well as those on lower incomes, the insulation scheme will apply to people in the “least efficient homes” in lower council tax bands (A to D in England); meaning it will cover a wider range of people than any ECO yet has.

Now looking at homeowners who can pay for their energy, as well as those who are really struggling, the ECO+ scheme is treading new and important ground.

Millions more houses could potentially benefit, with the scheme picking up three-quarters of the bill.

The ugly sister

The Green Deal, ECO’s ugly sister, came in alongside the scheme, but in a less structured, more market-led way.

It fell by the wayside swiftly, with tales of cowboy builders taking consumers for a ride, which has somewhat soured many to future attempts to restart such an initiative.

Installers are vetted for ECO installations under the new PAS2035 regulation; one hopes that as a broader range of homeowners is included in ECO+, they are given the reassurances that the system is rigorous and well-policed so that confidence grows once again.

Should have been earlier

And what is the information to customers, is there a central approach?

And how will the Government better ensure there is a ‘whole-house’ approach to energy retrofit this time around, when in an earlier version of ECO, arguably the rhetoric was followed up by a much more piecemeal reality.

ECO+ is launched this coming April, and over its three years, it will bring a raft of work to the industry, as well as millions of pounds of savings to consumers and a more energy-resilient future.

If only it could have been broadened out to more consumers, and could have been launched earlier to enable some to protect their homes against the ravages of this winter.

James Parker is editor of Architect’s DataFile and Housebuilder & Developer