An External Wall Insulation solution for Welsh housing
Wrexham County Borough Council outline their push in getting homes ready for the Welsh Housing Quality Standard by installing External Wall Insulation as a solution for tackling fuel poverty in some of its coldest homes…
Private and council owned homes in the area have been able to benefit from External Wall Insulation (EWI) work, thanks to new investment and dedicated work by Council officers to gain funding from Welsh Government grants, and the introduction of the Welsh Housing Quality Standard (WHQS) which requires all social housing in Wales to bring their housing stock up to an acceptable level by 2020.
The works programme which will see External Wall insulation applied to its nontraditional houses. This is a process where a 100mm layer of insulation is applied to the outside walls and elevations, resulting in more energy efficient properties which will be cheaper to heat. ‘Non-traditional’ properties refers to houses constructed from steel, concrete and other brick alternatives such as Swedish timber. Most of Wrexham’s non-traditional properties were erected in the late 1940’s and 1950’s and through the 1960’s to tackle the huge post-war demand for housing. Altogether, Wrexham owns some 1,647 Non Traditional Properties of 14 different types, spread over 26 locations around the Borough. More than 545 properties around the County Borough have already benefited from having External Wall Insulation (EWI) installed.
With 11,300 social housing properties, Wrexham Council’s Housing Service is the largest social landlord in Wales, outside of Cardiff and Swansea. Around 1,600 of these homes are non-traditional properties of various types, built of steel, timber, concrete and other brick alternatives.
The Council are currently investing in a huge social housing improvement works programme, leading up to the 2020 WHQS deadline, which is seeing thousands of properties receive new kitchens, bathrooms and other internal and external work, including EWI, where required to meet the standard.
Over £90m is being invested in by the Council in improvement work between 2015-2017 This includes an annual £7.5m ‘Major Repairs Allowance’ grant which the Welsh Government awards to local authorities to support them achieving WHQS.
Two areas in Wrexham that have recently been able to benefit from major EWI projects thanks to the funding are the large villages of Cefn and Johnstown, both just south of Wrexham.
The villages are home to a total of 97 Council owned British Iron & Steel Framed Houses (BISF). There are also a further 73 of these properties which are now privately owned.
The post-war properties are significantly less efficient at holding in heat than todays modern insulated brick houses. According to the Energy Saving Trust, around 45% of the heat lost in houses such as these is through the walls.
Many of the properties were also showing significant external signs of age, although surveys carried out by an external specialist housing consultant revealed that they were still in good overall structural condition.
A report from the consultants was put before Council’s Executive Board in late 2014, who recommended that EWI would be the best solution for bringing these properties up to the WHQS. Approval has since been given for the same work to be carried out on all 1,600 non-traditional properties in Wrexham.
The process involves applying a 100mm layer of insulation to the outer walls of the properties. The layer of insulation is then covered in a render and brick slips.
As well as helping the houses to hold in heat, installing EWI will also help fill in cracks to reduce drafts and improve sound resistance, reduce CO2 emissions, and increase the overall lifespan of the properties by protecting the structure from the elements.
The work means these properties will now achieve the key targets set out in the WHQS, which state that all homes should be in a ‘good state of repair’ and ‘adequately heated, fuel efficient and well insulated’.
Installing EWI also offered an opportunity to make aesthetic improvements to the properties. Council Officers, local members and manufacturers considered various options to ensure the work was delivered in a style which provided interest and visually pleasing elevations, rather than simply block colour to cover the insulation.
The final design chosen was an attractive blend of render and brick slips.
Thanks to the design work, the properties, most of which are many decades old, now have the appearance of brand new traditional brick houses from the outside.
Wrexham Council’s Lead Member for Housing, Councillor Ian Roberts, commented:
Due the amount of steel houses that exist in the two villages, the improvement work has allowed the appearance of entire streets to be transformed by the work.
These are the most significant improvements these properties have received for several decades. We’ve seen homes where the work has been completed and the difference it’s made to these streets is quite staggering. They look like brand new houses and we hope that this, along with the heating and energy saving benefits of the insulation will have a very positive effect on this community.
Local tenant, Lynette Roberts said she has already noticed some of the benefits of the new insulation: “The place has felt a lot warmer, especially over the winter. We haven’t had to have the heating on quite as much as we have in the past so we’re hoping this will help us save on our fuel bills in the long run. My father lives in one of the other Council bungalows just across the road and he’s had the work done too so it’s helped us both to know that our homes have been looked after and will be fit for us to stay here for the future. We’ve also had our roofs done so they look a lot nicer from the outside now too.”
The Welsh Government’s support for using EWI to eradicate fuel poverty has also allowed the same work to be carried out on the privately owned steel houses which are dotted amongst the council properties in the villages.
Wrexham Council managed to successfully secure funding for the private homes from the Welsh Government’s Warm Homes ‘Arbed’ energy performance investment programme.
The ‘Arbed’ (a Welsh word meaning ‘to save’) project was set up by the Welsh Government in 2009. The aims of the project being to reduce carbon emissions from homes, cut down on fuel poverty so that those people on low incomes can afford to pay their bills and boost economic development by providing jobs and training opportunities for workers and businesses in Wales.
Local authorities and social housing landlords were invited to bid from a central funding pot.
Improving the insulation on existing buildings is named as one of the key improvements that the Arbed project should fund.
Overall a total of £20m has been allocated to 13 local authorities across Wales.
Michael Cantwell, lead on sustainability at Wrexham Council and who was the project manager for the scheme, said:
“The Warm Homes Arbed scheme has been a key part in our programme to reduce fuel poverty in Wrexham. We have worked closely with the team at Welsh Government and our contractors have been able to install a high quality solid wall insulation to hard-to-treat, often steel prefabs properties, both private and Council. Having heavily insulated homes will save the resident a small fortune in energy over the next twenty years and will help to reduce their carbon emissions uses, building resilient communities that people really want to live in. We are also following the physical work up with lifestyle and fuel switching advice from our partners at Groundwork and Community Switch”.
Work on both the Council and private homes in Cefn and Johnstown is due to be completed by March 2016.
Wrexham County Borough Council