Homebase to give energy efficiency help

DIY retailer Homebase is to offer its customers a home energy efficiency service following a year-long project with 100 households considering how best to encourage improvements.

Bespoke energy efficiency advice and financial assistance could encourage 80% of households to cut carbon and save money, a project by DIY chain Homebase, the Eden Project and consultants Acona has found.1 Homebase now plans to offer an energy efficiency advice and installation service in its stores.

The 21st century living project studied the gap between high levels of public awareness of climate change and low take-up of home energy efficiency measures. It was funded by the Home Retail Group, which owns Homebase and retailer Argos.

The project took place over a year, ending in October 2009. A nationally representative sample of 100 households was chosen from Homebase’s customer database. Each home received an initial environmental audit, an opinion survey, an information pack including eco-products such as a home energy monitor, and £500 to spend on improvements. In addition, 61 participants received a thermal image survey of heat loss from their home.

Of the 84 households that completed the project, 81% made at least one energy saving improvement. Nearly 60% increased their use of energy efficient light bulbs and 55% installed or improved loft insulation. Just under a quarter replaced white goods such as fridge-freezers with a more energy efficient model. About 10% installed cavity wall insulation or double glazing.

The project estimated that participants cut energy use by an average of 10%. The poor data provided by utility companies’ bills meant it was impossible to calculate a more accurate figure. The government wants energy firms to fit smart meters in most UK homes by 2020 to provide real-time energy data (ENDS Report 419, pp 43-44). In the meantime, the project says data could be greatly improved within current billing arrangements.

The most important finding is that householders want a tailored energy efficiency service, rather than generic information.

B&Q is already offering sustainability advice and installation services at two stores (ENDS Report 422, p 11). The trial is part of the Energy Saving Trust’s ‘pay as you save’ pilot scheme, offering homeowners loans for energy efficiency improvements (pp 36-40 and ENDS Report 415, pp 14-15).

The 21st century living project also found the perception of the environment as a middle class concern was false. All social groups made improvements, with working class households making the most. The energy monitor was a particularly effective way of persuading participants to switch off lights and replace inefficient appliances (see p 15).

Giving money also unlocked further investment. The £500 payment encouraged about 60% of participants to spend roughly the same again of their own money on improvements. However, a lot of spending occurred just before the project’s end, suggesting people need a deadline to ensure they take action.

The project found that while participants tackled energy use with enthusiasm, they were half-hearted about reducing waste and water use, and made little effort on transport.

Recycling rates, for instance, increased from 58 to 63%, and 14% of participants invested in a composter. However, average UK recycling rates also increased by three percentage points over the period and total waste produced by project participants increased slightly. Water butts were installed by 21%, but few people took any other water-saving measures.

Rosi Watson, the Home Retail Group’s head of corporate responsibility, said the project showed that "given the right information and incentives, everyone will invest in greener homes regardless of their background and values… It has given us a better understanding of what customers want and need when it comes to saving energy and reducing their waste, and we are now developing products and services to meet these needs."