Scottish Housing Day (Part 1) – Home energy improvement challenges in rural and island communities

With COP26 just around the corner, this year’s Scottish Housing Day is focused on the role of housing in the climate emergency. With this theme in mind, we have released two blogs looking at the difficulties rural households can face to implement important energy efficiency improvements. You can read our second blog here.

Our homes are responsible for 13% of emissions in Scotland and adapting our existing housing stock to be more energy efficient is going to play a crucial role in meeting our 2045 net-zero target. Eventually we will need to move away from heating our homes with fossil fuels and switch to renewable energy, as well as improving insulation. However, these upgrades are costly and can be challenging to implement in rural and island areas.   

Rural homes are often harder and more expensive to heat due to design, whilst many are not connected to mains gas (65% of rural dwellings in Scotland are not on the gas grid) and use other more expensive forms of fuel. Furthermore, most fuel-poor rural households live in rented accommodation and rely on landlords to make these home energy improvements. This results in high levels of fuel poverty and often, poorer living conditions. According to the Scottish House Condition Survey 2019, 42% of remote rural homes are fuel poor or extremely fuel poor.

Dean Wigglesworth, a specialist energy advisor for Changeworks, spoke to us about some of the energy efficiency challenges rural households can face: 

“Rural properties, and particularly those located in remote rural areas tend to have far lower EPC ratings than properties located in urban areas. There are multiple factors that contribute towards this situation which can be broadly categorised into two areas: property type and fuel type availability.

“Rural properties tend to be of traditional construction with very limited levels of insulation, and many of which are detached. Very often the properties are complex, with various extensions of variable construction quality, all of which inflate the overall heat demand and therefore directly impact negatively on the overall EPC rating. In addition, many of the properties are electrically heated using storage heaters or just individual electric room heaters. Owing to the very high cost of electricity and the absence of connections to the mains gas network, this reduces the overall energy performance.

“Many low carbon heating solutions will not work as effectively without a significant amount of retro insulation work. It is very difficult to source accredited installers across the area to undertake more complex insulation work, such as room in the roof insulation and solid wall insulation. This limits the suitability of certain technologies to operate as desired.

“The supply chain for engaging with installers to undertake insulation works in the Highlands & Islands is a constant challenge and therefore there remains a significant number of poorly insulated properties with correspondingly low EPC ratings.”

This year, the Scottish Government announced that £64 million will be allocated to a programme that aims to tackle fuel poverty and improve home energy efficiency. The Area Based Scheme (ABS) is highly ambitious with Local ABS projects planning to install low and zero emissions heating systems in more than 500 homes this year, as well as insulation and other improvements such as solar panels and battery storage. Whilst this is a welcome sum, rural households still face barriers to installing home energy improvements such as improved insulation and new heating systems, despite being areas that fall victim to extreme fuel poverty.

Find out more about the challenges some people face when trying to access support to improve their home energy efficiency in remote rural and island areas in our second Scottish Housing Day blog.

September 2021