Huge demand for new deep retrofit grants

Some one-stop-shops will not take on projects with new build extensions.

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One-stop-shops have reported strong consumer demand in the first few weeks of Ireland’s new national retrofitting scheme. Under the scheme, which is administered by SEAI, applicants can claim up to 50 per cent grant aid on the cost of a deep energy upgrade if they go through an approved one-stop-shop.

“We have had over 1,000 enquiries so far since SEAI published the one-stop-shops on their website two weeks ago,” Rory Clarke, general manager of House2Home Retrofit, one of five bodies approved at the time of writing, told Passive house Plus.

“There has been massive interest in the scheme,” said Caroline Ashe Brady of Kore Retrofit, another of the one-stop-shops. “There have been a large number of leads, which we are working through.” Electric Ireland Superhomes also said they had been inundated with enquiries.

Homes upgraded under the scheme must achieve at least a B2 energy rating and a 100 kWh reduction in energy use, per square metre of floor area per year. One-stop-shops provide a start-to-finish project management service which includes surveying the home, designing the upgrade, engaging contractors, managing grants, helping with access to finance, and quality assurance.

One-stop-shops were also positive about the role played by SEAI on the scheme to date. A representative from one one-stop shop told us: “I have to say it is a totally different approach from SEAI, certainly more open to listening to commenters. The key difference is that they genuinely seem to want to make changes to the scheme where you can properly explain why a change would be better for the homeowner.”

There remains some concern that airtightness testing and mechanical ventilation are not mandatory under the scheme.

Different one-stop-shops operating under the programme are likely to offer different scopes to their services, Passive House Plus has learned. One rep told us that his company was not taking on projects with extensions or renovation works outside the scope of the retrofit grants, for example.

He said: “We have done a number of pilots over the last few years where we tried really hard to make this work, but on almost all occasions it proved very difficult,” he said, citing quality assurance and risk management as challenging on such jobs.

Other one-stop-shops, however, said they would take on such jobs. Most also said they are happy to take on upgrades that go beyond the scheme’s B2 energy benchmark, to higher targets such as the Passive House Institute’s Enerphit standard.

“Eighty-five per cent of our homes were A-rated last year,” said a spokesperson for Electric Ireland Superhomes. “We’ll work with the homeowner on whatever their requirement is. We have a minimum standard, no maximum standard.”

There remains some concern that airtightness testing and mechanical ventilation are not mandatory under the scheme, though a €1,000 grant is available towards airtightness measures, and €1,500 for mechanical ventilation. However, most of the one-stop-shops that Passive House Plus spoke to indicated that they would take care to avoid measures which may cause risk of interstitial condensation, such as internal wall insulation in certain scenarios.

“Given the cost of the works I think it would be too much for the early adaptors to force [mechanical ventilation] on them,” one told us. “Obviously, it would be better and certainly can be recommended, but we need to be careful as the cost to the homeowner is already considerable.”

Electric Ireland Superhomes, however, told Passive House Plus that advanced ventilation – typically demand controlled mechanical extract ventilation – would be a requirement on their jobs, as would airtightness testing and the installation of a heat pump.

The deep retrofit grants, which must go through a one-stop-shop, include funding of up to €2,000 for project management. A government source told Passive House Plus that this payment was designed to help the one-stop-shops to invest in their own capacity, marketing, sales, and digital systems — essentially to help develop the retrofit economy.

However, while the grants acknowledge the importance of good project management — seen as critical to avoiding retrofit failures — there is no requirement for specific roles such as a retrofit co-ordinator, which is a feature of the PAS 2035 retrofit standard recently developed in the UK.

€8 billion funding

Efforts to expand and upskill the workforce are now seen as critical to the success of the retrofit programme, particularly as the country embarks on a major housebuilding drive simultaneously. There are expected to be 4,500 training places across five Irish retrofit centres of excellence by the end of the year, and it is hoped that the guarantee of multi-year retrofit funding, long desired by contractors in the sector, will now give companies the certainty they need to expand.

“One of the biggest barriers to uptake and market growth has been the absence of a multi-annual grant system for multi-measures,” said Rory Clarke of House2Home Retrofit. “The one-stop-shop programme has addressed that, and we can now invest in growth with confidence and certainty.”

Launching its retrofit programme earlier this year, the Irish government said that its new schemes reflect a “step-change” in the pace and scale of retrofit delivery, towards achieving the national target of 500,000 home energy upgrades, to B2 building energy rating (BER) standard, by 2030. It has committed to spending €8 billion on retrofit up to 2030, with €5 billion of this ringfenced from future carbon tax revenues.

Speaking to Passive House Plus, Adrian Joyce, campaign director of Renovate Europe, said that Ireland’s new retrofit programme “sits at the top of class” among similar programmes across Europe. He said this was for three reasons: the long-term ambition, with funding pledged until 2030; the fact that projects must reach at least a B rating and save 100 kWh/m2/yr; and that €8 billion is allocated to the scheme, which represents more per capita compared to other European countries.

“We in the Renovate Europe campaign will be keeping a close eye on the roll out of the scheme and will promote it as a best practice example, asking other member states to prepare and implement similar schemes,” he said.

Last modified on Friday, 20 May 2022 11:52