The Big Challenge: Setting standards for a green life in Sheffield

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It has been a ‘great couple of weeks’ for Jenny Patient’s organisation Green Homes Sheffield.

“Our Open Homes event coincided with two other local events about how homes can go green. At Sheffield University there was an exciting conference showcasing ways to refurbish buildings to save energy and make them comfortable and healthy.

“After this event, run by Carbon Neutral University and Zero Carbon Yorkshire, I was keen to visit our two local passive houses, near Huddersfield. The Passivhaus Trust was offering visits to the Golcar passive house, a large designer home, and its much smaller sibling in Denby Dale.

“We met the owners and quizzed them about what the homes are like to live in, and why they chose to build them. The smaller home was particularly inspiring for me, as I could imagine living there.”

Green Homes Sheffield brings together householders who want to make their homes more comfortable, affordable and greener, with people who have already achieved the ambition, and firms who can help.

“We find that meeting, seeing and talking can really help people on their own journey to saving energy at home,” said Jenny.

We have thoughtful construction companies who would love to do more

“It’s a complex area, and help is not as easily available here as in other countries - in the Netherlands, shops sell off-the-shelf packages to refurbish your home and make it energy-efficient.

“We’d like to see that path being made easier for the average householder, by getting local businesses more skilled-up and aware. When we open our home for visits I often glumly tell the tale of how the bathroom fitter never suggested putting in insulation before re-plastering and tiling!”

About a third of climate emissions come from housing, with two-thirds triggered by heating, she explained.

“Meanwhile, in Sheffield, one-in-ten households cannot afford their fuel bills, and don’t heat their homes to a healthy level. That means a massive bill for the NHS, dealing with asthma in children, cardiovascular illness in older people, and mental stresses from worrying about bills. There are a lot of extra deaths every year because of cold homes, and as someone once neatly put it, ‘excess winter misery’ for so many people. So there is a massive prize if we can insulate these homes - nearly half the money invested comes back in health savings.”

Real Home
A passiv, low energy house - Woodstones, in Golcar, Huddersfield, owned by Angela and Paul Dallas.  Picture Tony Johnson.

Real Home A passiv, low energy house - Woodstones, in Golcar, Huddersfield, owned by Angela and Paul Dallas. Picture Tony Johnson.

But in Sheffield there are particular issues, meaning many homes are complex to insulate, such as terraced houses with thin walls, and rooms in the attic.

“Good work has been done on many homes - for example, tower blocks have been clad with insulation - but there are many more that need investment to make them future-proof and healthy.”

A free insulation scheme was offered several years ago in Sheffield, but the council’s team was disbanded amid cutbacks. Brussels in Belgium brought in a scheme in 2001 to subsidise building, and refitting, to low-energy standards, while Exeter and Norwich have set up similar initiatives to promote ‘passive house’ standards, which help to create ultra-low energy buildings.

“We seem to have a very vibrant small business sector, and a culture of supporting local companies,” said Jenny. “You can see this in the food and drink sector, but we also have long-established and thoughtful construction companies who would love to do more to retrofit homes to high standards. They need a solid framework of standards to build customer confidence and to train their staff in the new approaches. We could have a ‘Sheffield Standard’ for all new housing and retrofits, to guarantee low bills, good air quality and healthy living conditions - I think this would really appeal to our sense of pride in what we can do.”

Jenny’s dream would be to ‘find a pot of gold at the end of one of Sheffield’s rainbows and spend it all on insulating homes’, creating ‘thousands of jobs’ in the process. “Eight years later the money would have paid itself back in energy savings and I could retire to a little passive house in the hills...”