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Energy efficiency retrofit in Ceredigion

Ceredigion County Council’s energy efficiency project manager, Graeme Lane, offers an insight into maximising the delivery of energy efficiency funding for homes in the region.

Identifying an area in need is the first step to qualification for many projects and funding opportunities. Getting to grips with your housing stock data and understanding registered social landlord priorities along with related qualifying criteria is critical to meet any set objectives.

Deadlines of delivery generally determine procurement options. Sourcing a good-quality main contractor is a key feature of a successful project, so it is important to seek out examples of works and previous projects. Considering the full range of available procurement options at the earliest opportunity with your in-house procurement team is an essential stage of the project development.  We have utilised a number of options including OJEU-compliant frameworks and development of own procurement exercises. 

Understanding the needs of the properties and then matching an appropriate product and design solution is vital. These decisions are based on demands of properties, social landlord product selection, budgets and previous experiences of the contractor, as well as our own in-house team. 

The market is full of options, so selecting the best fit for a number of property types isn’t without its challenges. “Detailing is king,” as Colin King from the BRE advises. We have ensured where possible that products are in accordance with product design and appropriately applied. Any bespoke detailing is agreed and signed off with designers, suppliers and installers to maintain customer warranty conditions.

Teamwork and seeking guidance

Building professional relationships and working closely with the main contractor, sub-contractors, product providers and all the specialists really does allow you to keep your finger on the pulse. Being open to all activities on-site amongst the various stakeholders enables swift resolution of matters arising. For us, a pivotal role during these projects is the client role for private sector households; having an engaged and willing team provides a united group who can provide support and cover if required.

Recognising limitations is important; being curious and asking questions equally so. Don’t always think that everything is OK or contractors know all the answers. The aim from the outset on our scheme was to carry out all works for the best long-term outcome of the property and the householders. Knowing when to seek the appropriate advice is essential and proved invaluable in helping things move forward. Guidance was required on a number of elements, including design and performance characteristics in exposed areas. Funding demands also changed when we uncovered issues related to failed cavity wall insulation.

To exacerbate things, sign-up and householder confidence of the community regarding insulation and performance was tarnished. Utilising the guidance from Dr Jo Atkinson of the Carbon Trust and the BRE’s King assisted us in identifying the significance of the matter, as well as provided reassurance to the public and with seeking appropriate detailing and solutions.

In this instance, the evidence reinforced decision-making for us and Welsh Government. We were delighted that Welsh Government had sourced support for local authorities from industry-leading organisations during the preparation and live delivery of projects, which ensured appropriate actions on schemes.

Combining energy efficiency measures with advice

Following pilot energy efficiency coaching and behaviour change research exercise in Ceredigion, it became clear that empowering people to take charge of energy use and understand the energy market and the systems within their homes is invaluable.  We share our reports with main contractors and encourage them to adopt this methodology when it comes to energy advice.

An example of the delivery of this intervention gave some staggering results: for a relatively modest investment, savings reached in excess of £161,785 made up of energy savings and income maximisation. The overall figure will increase as some of the benefits achieved are year-on-year savings and increased levels of income. This is one of the most significant fuel poverty reduction exercises undertaken in Ceredigion, and will be utilised where possible in future activities.

Generally, financial support towards energy efficiency advice is low. However, there is a significant benefit in investing in this alongside any project or indeed as a standalone approach.

Community benefit

An extremely valuable part of any project is how much more of an impact and legacy you can achieve through it. Being creative and persistent has benefitted a diverse range of causes. Identifying these good causes was achieved by working with a range of departments internally and with external community stakeholders. Support can be provided in the form of in-kind cash contributions which can be extremely helpful as a short-term boost to local organisations, or by utilising the skills and knowledge of the workforce for potentially longer-term legacy outcomes.

These outcomes include employment opportunities for those out of work, shared apprenticeships, skills training and accreditation, and works in community facilities. Prior to project commencement, a number of ‘meet the buyer’ events are held to encourage local contractor engagement and create employment opportunities.

It is important to work closely with the supply chain to identify support streams available and then match them to community needs. One such example is the increased risk caused by the dynamic nature of construction activities amongst occupied family dwellings. Working with the supply chain, we quickly developed an activity day to educate and inform the young people of the potential dangers of construction sites. This was carried out in a fun way engaging communities and young people and was supported and funded by the main contractor. 

Other community benefits provided by the supply chain include:

Upgraded kitchen in a community building;

  • Materials for insulation and decoration provided to a community hall;
  • Skate park fun day and cash contribution to improving the facilities;
  • External wall insulation and improved heating system to community building;
  • Numerous training and skills development opportunities, shared apprentices;
  • Cash contributions to church for improvement works;
  • Cash contributions towards a disabled group to increase access;
  • Materials for upgrading changing room facilities.

Biodiversity is also an important consideration for all schemes. Due to specific time constraints of some of our projects, we found ourselves at odds with the normal prescribed ecologists surveying timeframes. The challenge for us was to deliver a well-considered scheme that did not jeopardise the local ecology.

We decided to pilot a carefully considered approach utilising specialist ecologists with inputs from conservation societies and contractors, the results of which were compiled into an external wall insulation toolkit for biodiversity. During the development of the toolkit, we found that mitigation measures don’t have to be expensive or time-consuming; just carefully planned in accordance with the toolkit.

The toolkit aims to assist all those with similar projects to ensure protection of the environment as well as the project delivery team. The penalty for failing to adhere to protected species legislation carries an unlimited fine and up to six months’ imprisonment, which is often not known about until it’s too late.


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