By Charlotte Mann, Energy Auditor
The Arran Eco Savvy energy team recently attended an Energy Advice Forum and in winter, a Stay Warm Stay Well course; both of which were delivered by Energy Action Scotland (EAS). As the energy auditor for Eco Savvy, myself and our project manager Jude made the journey to the initial course in Glasgow and subsequently the stunning location of Chatelherault Country Park. The high levels of attendance in both courses confirmed what we believed would be an important opportunity to gain knowledge from industry experts and other frontline energy workers.
The definition of fuel poverty is where more than 10% of the households’ income is needed to be spent to achieve a satisfactory heating regime (21°C in living areas & 18°C in other occupied rooms.) As seen in the map below 45% of people living in North Ayrshire are in fuel poverty. The figure showing the average fuel bill for UK consumers was laughable in comparison to the fuel bills we have come across on Arran, which are closer to the £2500 a year mark! Through offering free energy audits on the island we have come across many people who, to avoid fuel poverty, do not heat their homes sufficiently. This can cause house disrepair but also illness, details of which were concerning to us.
By not heating homes sufficiently many houses face condensation and dampness which in turn has health implications for the occupiers. The thermometer image below shows what each temperature range means for humans’ health. Along with these impacts from cold homes, damp homes cause an increase in allergies, infections, dust mites and a decrease in mental health and wellbeing. We were shocked to learn that there is an average of 2,500 excess winter deaths in Scotland every year and that 40% of these were from circulatory diseases such as heart attacks/strokes, and 33% of these were deaths from respiratory illnesses. Every winter death is accompanied by another 8 emergency hospital admissions for the same reason, with the graph below showing the varying NHS treatment expenses from household hazards, and the huge expense of incidents due to excess cold. These statistics sound well placed in Victorian times not modern-day Britain. It is the most vulnerable that suffer and with ever increasing fuel costs and an aging population, it has never been so important to help Arran residents who are in fuel poverty.
A key way to tackle fuel poverty is by improving the energy efficiency of homes. By sharing the knowledge of how to keep heat inside the home and cold out, it empowers people to make positive changes to save both money and the environment. The importance of offering advice on low cost energy efficiency measures, which is A main part of the Eco Savvy energy audit service is offering advice on low cost energy efficiency measures such as draught proofing, hot water tank jackets and LED lightbulbs. The value of offering this type of personalized advice was confirmed. Quick behavioural tips that cost nothing to implement are also recommended such as: when drying clothes inside, ensure the dryer is in an enclosed space with an extractor fan or window open. This minimizes the risk of condensation and damp, and, as Energy Action Scotland illustrated to us in the below picture, drying clothes indoors produces an alarming amount of moisture!
As mentioned earlier, fuel bills across Scotland and particularly in rural areas are above the UK average. It doesn’t help that everything related to energy suppliers can seem so confusing: from different tariffs and meters, to being in credit one month and in debit the next, with seemingly endless price hikes to top it off. We have seen that this minefield of information means residents give up trying to understand their bills and feel defeated against the energy companies. We occasionally meet people who believe that they are being charged too much for their electricity. Eco Savvy as a frontline energy service benefited from being talked through the small things to check through, that are often missed, to recognize the cause of noticeably high costs. It was highlighted that there have even been occasions of people mistakenly paying for their neighbours’ electricity!
The images below show how once people know how to interpret their bills, they can take control to identify the biggest users of electricity in the home and prioritize them accordingly. Further to that, by explaining how easy it is to switch to a more suitable tariff or supplier it gives the home occupier the confidence and knowledge to continually maximise their income.
The help and support contacts, who deal directly with the above queries and issues, that were gained through attending these workshops brought our advice service up a notch. The level of support we now offer to Arran residents in fuel poverty is highly rewarding to all involved. Many thanks to Energy Action Scotland for inviting the Eco Savvy energy team to both these beneficial information sessions and we look forward to future opportunities with EAS.