Published On: Thu, Jul 31st, 2014

Eco re-energises Bristol community

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A successful ECO scheme in Bristol highlights just how important government funding is to upgrade the UK’s vulnerable properties

6 & 7 The Grove after[7]With the government’s Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme at the centre of a political and media storm, following the controversial cuts confirmed in the ECO Consultation Response, it is easy to overlook the initiative’s accomplishments.

Like the CESP and CERT schemes before it, ECO has provided an opportunity for local authorities and housing associations to update their housing stock and breathe new life into social housing communities. A true success story of one such area that has benefitted from ECO funding is Cadbury Heath in Bristol, where a major £20m refurbishment project is taking place to upgrade 1,000 properties. Owned and managed by Merlin Housing Society, the properties were all of post war non-traditional construction, which suffered various levels of thermal inefficiency.

 Merlin Housing Society has more than a dozen different PRC housing types across its estates, with a high proportion located in Cadbury Heath. As a result, the housing association identified this area as one that could greatly benefit from ECO funding to undertake significant energy efficient improvements to its properties within the area.

 6 & 7 The Grove before[3]Part-funded by ECO, via main contractor Keepmoat, the remainder of the scheme was financed by Merlin Housing Society, which is committed to improving the energy efficiency of all of its properties. The extensive works have been undertaken as part of a wider regeneration scheme which included new kitchens, bathrooms, electrics, windows, doors, heating and insulation.

 As one of the main measures included under ECO funding, external wall insulation (EWI) was central to the refurbishment programme, but it was also the most difficult element to gain the tenants’ buy-in for. It was crucial for Merlin Housing Society to have the backing of its tenants from the outset and so it invested significant time and resources to ensure residents had been informed and consulted at every stage of the project.

 Many of the tenants were nervous about the EWI aspect of the scheme, as they were unsure about the exterior facade of their property changing and found it difficult to both envisage the end result and understand the benefits of having the work done. Despite representatives from Merlin Housing Society, Keepmoat and Wetherby Building Systems all explaining how EWI would improve their home, the message was not quite filtering across and so the housing association adopted a unique approach and looked to demonstrate the EWI process from a tenant’s perspective.

 Two of the first residents to have their homes refurbished agreed to film a video diary of the EWI being installed at their properties. The short film captured the entire process from start to finish and showed the real impact on the tenant, as well as the final transformation of the external facade. Made available in DVD format, the film has been issued to each of the residents for inclusion on the scheme and, as a much more accessible information tool, worked particularly well to help engage the occupants. The film also plays an important part of the consultation sessions that Merlin Housing Society holds for residents at the start of each phase of the project.

 The first two phases of the project are now complete, with Phase One seeing 46 properties undergo EWI works. With such a variety of different property types, it was important to select an insulation system that would work across them all and so Wetherby’s EpsiTherm insulation was specified as the most effective solution. The graphite enhanced EPS insulation board offers an enhanced thermal insulation material and, using a thickness of just 90mm, can meet required u-values without too much disruption to the external envelope.

 An extensive mix of brick effect, dry dash and silicone render finishes were then applied to the insulation to ensure the properties remained in keeping with the existing street scenes. It was important for the housing association to ensure that the refurbishment works did not disrupt the appearance of the neighbouring private houses and so each street cluster was treated individually and the most appropriate finish selected to complement the homes in that particular area.

 The second phase of the project, which saw a further 85 properties completed, required a different approach to the installation due to adverse weather conditions. It was crucial for Merlin Housing Society that the project was completed to a strict deadline but sustained periods of wet weather were delaying the installation works. Traditional renders can often suffer from extended drying times when humidity is high, leaving them open to damage from rain and frost, and so Wetherby was approached to offer an alternative solution.

 The finish that Wetherby provided was its new coloured mineral render system; EpsiCoat Mineral Render PLUS, which relies on a chemical reaction during the curing process to make it rain resistant in just one hour and touch dry in two hours. This means the unique render is less susceptible to delamination and wash-offs and ensured that the work could continue despite the poor weather conditions.

 Unlike other mineral render products, which require over-staining, the innovative render is pre-coloured and the choice of eight pastel shades meant that Merlin Housing Society could successfully complement existing houses in the community without increasing the installation time. Utilising Wetherby’s mineral render was a key factor in delivering the refurbishment works on time and within budget.

 The refurbishment programme has made a significant difference to tenants, who are not only benefitting from warmer, more comfortable homes but will now be saving an average of £500 per year on their energy bills. The upgraded properties are now classed as thermally efficient after the U-value has been successfully reduced from 2.1W/m2K to 0.3 W/m2K, bringing them in line with current building regulations.

 Commenting on the project, Merlin Housing Society refurbishment project manager Richard Hopkins said: “This improvement programme delivered real benefits to our tenants; they are now enjoying warmer homes, which are cheaper to heat. Not only have we improved the energy efficiency of these properties, but by upgrading the exterior of the houses we have seen residents take a renewed sense of pride in their community.”

The scheme has also added further value by helping some of the unemployed tenants in the area gain new skills, by enabling them to work on the project. Working with the Forest of Avon and the Princes Trust, Merlin Housing Society has encouraged some of its residents to get back into work by providing carpentry training through utilising timber from the local managed forest for this scheme. Many of those taking part in the programme have gone on to undertake apprenticeships to further develop their skills and continue in employment.

 A shining example of a scheme that has genuinely helped a local community that was struggling to afford energy bills, this project highlights how important it is that the government continues to invest in improving the energy efficiency of the UK’s poorly insulated housing stock.

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