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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 March 2006, 09:20 GMT
Scotland facing heat loss crisis
By Lesley Riddoch
Presenter of The Investigation

The 1,000-a-year heating bill is here.

Age Concern say high bills mean more old people have died this winter already - before the big 25% increases have even arrived in our bills.

Holyrood - IRT Surveys
IRT Surveys has assessed heat loss from the Holyrood building

Yet, in Radio Scotland's Investigation - Hot Air - we have discovered a heat loss crisis in Scotland to rival its dire figures on fuel poverty.

One in four Scots is having to choose between heating and eating.

Scary enough, you'd think, to make sure precious heat is not being wasted.

But new research shows Scotland is the least energy efficient country in northern Europe.

The proof lies in the 1999 EU Energy Performance survey which compared insulation standards - and in the thermal imaging work of Stewart Little and his firm IRT Surveys in Dundee.

Sometimes whole elevations have been missed out by cavity wall companies that were meant to make new buildings air tight in the 80s

IRT have surveyed 9,000 homes on behalf of councils and housing associations - and found 60% are missing insulation. And not just small patches.

Sometimes whole elevations have been missed out by cavity wall companies that were meant to make new buildings air tight in the 80s.

But even small non-insulated patches or cold bridges can suck out heat and leave cold damp patches - one of the ideal conditions for the microbes that trigger asthma.

It's not just old council houses - a thermal image of prestige public buildings last year, funded by Scottish Gas, showed heat loss (red and white patches) from cladding panels at the Scottish Parliament.

One year on, the problem's slightly worse as you can see by going to the Radio Scotland website.

Holyrood's managers are still considering what to do - and discovering that it's not easy to make buildings air tight once they're built.

School designers

So you'd think all planners and politicians would be demanding new public buildings are perfect. Wrong again.

"Temperatures range between 26-32 degrees Celsius when the sun in shining on south facing classrooms - even in early February and late October."

"Classrooms go from tropical to arctic. Heating controls are often behind units. Air flow limited due to non-opening windows and low ceilings."

Complaints like these were made by three in four of Scotland's first PFI schools in an EIS survey last year.

Scottish Executive offices - IRT Surveys
Heat loss from the executive headquarters was also assessed

It seems many school designers and PFI developers failed to take account of heat from kids, computers and lights.

The result - open windows in January and vents pumping valuable heat out to playgrounds to make classrooms bearable.

What a waste. How many of our offices are the same? But you'd assume an expensive, private new home would be different. Wrong again.

A properly insulated ceiling in a thermal image should appear as a uniform red/yellow colour - but that's not what we found in a brand new, three-bedroom, 250,000 home in Angus.

The loft insulation clearly failed building regulations but the house had been passed by Angus Council and the House Building guarantors the NHBC.

So can we always believe the professionals - the building industry, the building control inspectors or the NHBC - when they say a building is air tight?

Wouldn't it be easier for the Scottish Executive to toughen Scotland's building regulations so that completion certificates depended on passing air tightness tests?

Paul Tuohy is a researcher at Strathclyde University's Energy Systems Research Unit and he has made some calculations about how much we'd all save if politicians decided to act.

He says:

  • If all buildings were brought up to 2002 insulation standards we'd save 329 per householder pa (or 2m saved across Scotland per day!)

  • If all buildings were brought up to the best German design standards we'd save 593 per household per annum (3.6m across Scotland per day)

  • If all buildings were brought up to German standards with micro generation (rooftop wind turbines or solar panels) we'd save 660 pa (4m across Scotland per day)

  • That could mean a heating bill of just 141 not 1,000 and 50% fewer carbon emissions per household.

These very low energy bills are not fantasy - they're being achieved in more than 1,000 villages, towns and cities across Europe right now.

By contrast, many Scottish homes keep leaking heat by accident - and many Scottish schools, offices and indeed our parliament keep pumping heat out by design.

We are wasting millions, contributing more to global warming than industry, letting pensioners get cold despite free central heating systems they can't afford to switch on, and letting kids get asthma in damp cold bedrooms and overheated classrooms.

The very latest news from the executive is good - new building regulations released in the last few days will improve what's expected of new homes.

Condensing boilers are in. Better loft insulation is also in. Though mandatory air tightness tests are not. You can see more at the Scottish Building Standards Agency website.

The big question for ministers is this - how can they enforce better standards on new homes and how can they fix the poor insulation standards and heat loss from existing homes?

Hear Lesley with Gary Robertson in Hot Air, The Investigation on Morning Extra. It kicks off BBC Scotland's Energy Week at 0850 GMT on BBC Radio Scotland on Monday, 6 March.


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