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Open Homes Could Help Us Improve Our Homes And Cut Emissions



Tomorrow COP21 will devote the entire day to considering the use of energy in buildings. The UK’s Federation of Open Home Networks believes the homes of the future will necessarily be dramatically improved older homes. Our homes accounted for 22% of the UK’s CO2 emissions in 2014.

To get to the government’s target of 80% less CO2 emissions by 2050, making older homes energy efficient will be vital, since 8 out of 10 homes that will be in standing in 2050 have already been built and are old and inefficient.

“It needn’t cost the earth”, says Federation Director John Doggart.

Open Homes groups are opening their doors to demonstrate the benefits of energy improvements and visitors are not only inspired – they also take action. A survey of visitors to SuperHomes, one such group operating nationally, found respondents went on to spend an average of £3750 on energy saving improvements. Respondents planned to spend, on average, £5770 over the next 12 months. “If every visitor to the SuperHome Open Days last September were to proceed in this way we would see £18 million spent on energy saving measures by visitors.” says Doggart.

The Federation represents 26 groups and over 1300 green households which share their experience of refurbishment, renewables and energy efficiency. 200 SuperHomes already show how we can refurbish and achieve carbon savings of 60% and more. Interest in visiting these homes is strong and SuperHomes alone attracted over 3000 visitors in September 2015.

By one estimate we should be refurbishing 600,000 properties a year to meet the government’s 2050 target. The government’s flagship Green Deal offer was supposed to deliver this scale of change, but its loan offer was poorly received and it was recently axed.

Retrofitting existing homes should be a priority, but what’s the best way to kick start this market? Open Homes are rebuilding interest from the bottom up.

“Attending an Open House event provides the credibility and a touch-and-feel experience that is so crucial at present” says John Doggart.

Andrew Warren, Chairman of the Federation, adds “Seeing really can be Believing! There’s no question that Open Homes are helping visitors see the improvements that can be made in homes like their own. They’re helping visitors build up the confidence to take the next steps. Often visitors look to the hosts to provide reassurance on what works.”

John Doggart says “Now there is a real opportunity to engage with the numbers of people we need to make a significant increase in take-up of retrofit energy measures”. He puts the number of homeowners who must be inspired to take action at around 1 million, or around 5% of private homeowners. In marketing terms, these homeowners will be the ‘early adopters’ largely responsible for influencing the majority of homeowners to take action.

Open Homes provide inspiration at a very low cost both to the public and funders. The events are normally free and the recent Brighton event ran successfully at a funded cost of £8 per visit.

Many of the Open Home groups are operating largely as a result of hard work by enthusiastic local volunteers, often assisted by an enlightened local authority, some local sponsorship and a small grant from DECC’s green homes programme.

There remain, however, vast areas of the UK where nothing as systematic as Open Days is taking place. There is plenty of scope to continue building provision if DECC and other regional funders elect to support this type of peer-to-peer activity in 2016.

John Doggart says that there are few difficulties in the way of further success. “All we need to do is to recruit and assess more exemplars and put these homeowners’ experience into play online.”

A huge increase in peer to peer sharing online including videos, podcasts, articles and Q&As is a possibility. John Doggart says: “The hope is to reach a point where we’re catering for 5000 online visits per days within 2 years. That will make for an estimated 10 fold increase in beneficiaries.”

Photo: Seeing is believing – visitors at an open home event