Blog: An innovative and efficient way of tackling fuel poverty among housing association tenants

Earlier this year the Guardian reported that cold homes are a bigger killer across the UK than road accidents, drug abuse or alcohol abuse. The story also highlighted that cold-related illness and hospital admissions will cost the NHS more than £22 billion over the next 15 years. Jason Amos from English housing association Moat said as a landlord with a real social purpose, Moat takes these sorts of figures seriously and does what it can to drive them down wherever possible.

moat_1Fletchers Close in Bromley, Kent, comprises 56 retirement living homes for people aged 55 or over. Until recently, the residents of those homes shared a communal gas heating system, with no control over the temperature of their homes. They all paid an equal amount for heating and hot water regardless of how much they each used, with 35p of every £1 spent lost through inefficiency.

We worked with our repairs and maintenance contractor, Mears, to find a sustainable solution for the residents of Fletchers Close. After evaluating multiple options, we turned to ground source heat pumps (GSHPs) – a method of fuelling heating systems and hot water through underground pipes that extract natural heat from the earth. These were designed and specified by Ground Heat, the contractor selected for its after-care service and being a market leader in renewables.

The ground temperature below the surface of the earth is fairly consistent, so GSHPs are an efficient, year-round solution for heating and hot water. But at Fletchers Close this new technology has also allowed us to remove the cold water storage tanks and therefore reduce the risk of legionella. This coupled with more comfortable, healthier temperatures in the homes, means that we’ve not only reduced our customers’ expenses but enhanced their safety and quality of life too.

moat_2From an asset management perspective, GSHPs require minimal maintenance, meaning service charges are reduced too. Each pump is fitted with an electric pulse meter to give both customers and landlord’s details of its total running cost. This means there’s no need to call out engineers for every system failure, as they can carry out fault diagnostics and even fix issues remotely thanks to the system’s web and iPhone access. Add to this the estimated 37 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions, and this is as big a win for landlords, their customers and the environment.

For me the ground source system is a real innovation. It is relatively new to the UK market; but given the potential benefits it is an option I expect to see used more widely in years to come.

National Energy Action (NEA) funded this project and will be working closely with both our customers and my team over the next two years to capture data on the impact of this new technology – particularly with regards to energy usage, air temperatures and air quality. The result that we’re looking for is a significant decrease in energy costs to our customers, which in turn will reduce the risk of any of them falling into fuel poverty. We also hope that Fletchers Close will serve as a case study for other organisations and will encourage more innovative thinking. After all, one in 20 older people are still unable to heat their homes adequately, so collectively we all have a lot of work to do. It’s my hope that solutions like this will help to deliver for our customers.

  • Jason Amos is director of property services at Moat, a housing association working in the South East of England.
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