Bristol’s green new deal is on the way

Last Friday I called on a truly remarkable house in Easton.  The new tenant is a very lucky lady.  She will be living in what might be the cheapest to manage house in Bristol. She will have low energy bills and a very small carbon footprint.

We know we need to change the way we live in order to give our planet a sustainable future.  We must stop burning carbon fuels to generate electricity.  We should drive and fly much less, at least until science gives us cleaner cars and planes.  We should stop chopping down forests, which act as a green lung for the Earth.  But in Britain we could probably make the greatest reduction in carbon emissions by saving energy in our own homes.

Spring may have just started but I’m sure we all remember the recent Arctic conditions.  I was horrified by my own gas bill received a few weeks ago.  In Sweden they’re used to freezing conditions for several months of the year.  But your average Swede has a lower carbon footprint than your average Brit.  How can this be?  The answer lies in the design of their houses.  Tough building controls give the Swedes well insulated houses and lower energy consumption.

My own Victorian house in St Andrews is typical of the problem in Britain – solid walls and sash windows that leak heat.  Most of us have done the small things like low energy light bulbs and a bit of draught proofing.  But to make a real impact I’ll have to think about my walls and windows, which will be expensive.  I also live in a conservation area so I’ll have to balance preserving the look of my house while improving the feel.

That’s where the remarkable house in Easton comes in.  The Technology Strategy Board, a government funded science body, has paid for the complete retro-fitting of a typical Victorian house.  The walls are now thicker and the modern sash windows have double glazing.  There are solar panels on the roof to heat the water and there’s the latest energy efficient boiler, which won’t actually be needed very often, so good is the house insulation.

This needs to be done on a mass scale and the Coalition Government has announced a revolutionary Green New Deal to make it affordable and easy.  From 2013 loans will be provided to finance home improvements that improve energy efficiency.  They’ll be paid back via the energy bills for the house, even if you move property in future.  Expect to hear a lot more about this great new scheme over the next year.  Pretty soon a repeat of our last bitter winter won’t make us feel cold in our homes.  We’ll be doing our bit for the planet, too.

Note: this was originally written for the Bristol Evening Post and was published on 6 April 2011.