Saturday, February 13, 2010

Step 3: To insulate or not insulate, that is the question?

We rent a fairly typical medium sized (200m2) Belgian detached house.  Built circa 1970 it has uninsulated cavity walls, concrete floors and ceilings, first generation double glazing and no insulation in the loft.  The house has been rented out for the last 15 years or more and belongs to a retired German gentleman who lives up the road and used to work for the EU. 

In 2008 Electrabel in Belgium hugely increased its gas and electricity prices and put our standing order up to a crippling €420 a month so we approached the landlord to ask him about insulating the house.  At first he was not interested, after all what would he gain from spending the money?  It was not until we threatened to move out that he finally decided to look into it.

As an engineer I compiled a detailed heat loss analysis spreadsheet in support of my cause.  The heat loss at 0oC was a staggering 16.4kW.  I calculated that by insulating the walls and the loft this could be reduced to 7.7kW which would save us around €180 a month.  I was so sure of my figures that to sweeten the deal I offered to pay €500 to the landlord towards the cost.

After some research my landlord decided on the company he wanted to use and got a price of €5600(!) before subsidies.  Electrabel gave a subsidy of 20% and there were other grants available.  There was, however, a problem because most subsidies in Belgium come in the form of tax relief against earnings whereas the landlord paid his taxes directly to the EU.  Fortunately as a German our landlord was very thorough in his due diligence and he eventually got the subsidy up to about 50% and the decision was made to go ahead.

By this time it was winter and the elements were not kind to us.  We had a prolonged cold snap of -11oC and our huge gas boiler was struggling to cope.  Worse the insulation could only be injected when the temperature was 2oC or above so we had to sit it out.  We bought some logs and often lit a fire to help the central heating cope. On the 29th January 2009 the weather was at last warm enough for the work to be carried out.  The concrete floor of the loft was coated with 6cm-8cm of hard insulation foam.  The surface undulates a bit but is hard enough to walk on.  The walls and bedroom ceilings were immediately warmer to the touch and the house felt much warmer with fewer drafts.

One year on our standing order has been decreased to €290 a month and we expect it to go down even further the next time the gas meter is read.  We have already saved our €500 stake and are now into profit.  In absolute terms the full cost is recuperated in less than 4 years.  We were lucky that we were able to convince our landlord that it was a good investment.  In my opinion the Government should oblige all landlords to insulate their rental properties to the highest practical level. They should also allow people equal access to subsidies whether they are tax payers or not.

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