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How thermal insulation can change lives

There are many benefits to ensuring that your home is energy efficient. For exmaple, it helps to keep you and your family warm in the winter, while reducing fuel bills and improving everyone's wellbeing. 

But can making changes to improve the efficiency of your home - such as installing thermal wall insulation - really change your life?

Recently, the Guardian interviewed two pensioners in the north-east of England to compare their living standards - one who is living in a home with solid wall insulation, and one whose home does not have adequate protection from the elements.

John Flyn is from Hartlepool. He is 72 and pays £180 a month to keep his north-facing end-terraced house warm in the winter.

Les Fawcett is from Middlesbrough. He is 76 and pays £45 a month to heat his home.

According to the Guardian, the main difference between these two men's homes is that one has four inches of wall insulation, and the other doesn't. This means John pays £135 more a month to keep his home warm.

Both men are owner-occupiers living on pensions. Les benefited from a government scheme that meant the solid walls of his home were insulated free of charge. However, the money ran out before John could benefit.

"The cladding's been the best thing that's happened round here," Les said. "It doesn't just keep people warm, it leaves pensioners with a bit of cash in their pockets instead of borrowing from their daughters. It's changed people's lives."

High fuel bills

It's estimated that 4.5 million homes in the UK are fuel poor, meaning that they cannot afford to heat their homes adequately. Of these fuel poor homes, 96 per cent are poorly insulated.

John and Les both believe that insulation is something that needs to be discussed more, especially in regards to the controversy over high fuel bills in the UK.

In fact, British energy prices are some of the cheapest in Europe - but the UK also has some of the highest energy bills because the housing stock is so poorly insulated. Not only does the inadequate level of insulation put more people at risk of fuel poverty, it also undermines the UK's climate change targets.

If the government is to achieve its legally-binding emissions cut of 80 per cent by 2050, the UK needs to make some major changes to its existing homes. Some £640 million a year has been promised to improve energy efficiency in homes, and the government says it is committed to combating fuel poverty and climate change, with a target to upgrade more than 200,000 homes per year.

However, Policy Exchange (PX), a right-leaning think-tank, says that the government needs to spend twice as much in order to insulate enough homes. While this might seem like a high level of expense, PX notes that improving home efficiency also creates jobs, reduces air pollution, minimises carbon emissions, cuts fuel imports and reduces the need to build new power stations.

Richard Howard from PX called an increase of thermal insulation funding "a no brainer", explaining that bringing people's homes up to standard is good value for money.

"We don't typically think of housing as infrastructure like we think of roads and railways - but we've got to change the way we approach this: housing is critical infrastructure," he said.