Feature: How we insulate our homes is key for a sustainable future

By Chris Dietz, executive vice president, Global Operations Leading Real Estate Companies of the World

Sustainable investment and energy saving strategies have been a recent focus across the real estate sphere as the industry strives to adhere to global climate and environmental targets, which means prioritizing forward-thinking ideas and technology. But what energy saving methods can we implement for old and new homes, to pave the way for a greener future?

Let’s look into the different approaches for conserving energy. ‘Passive design’ is the concept of cutting energy loss in buildings by conscious design—where heat preservation can be achieved through improving a building’s performance instead of expensive glazing solutions and more complex technology. Passive design can be great for carbon reduction and cost savings in new-builds and is considered the first step of low carbon construction. It means building projects with a thermal model at the core, focusing on window style and optimising internal layout to maintain a comfortable temperature. However, it does not give answers in our need to ‘green-proof’ homes which are already built.

Introducing eco-friendly insulation is the best way to reduce energy in older houses without renovation or costly infrastructural changes. Insulation is a big part of passive design, yet smart retrofitting solutions to insulate older homes should go hand in hand in order to achieve a sustainable future. Denim insulation, for example, is home insulation made from recycled jeans. It can be used in walls, ceilings, floors, attics and crawl spaces – offering potential antidote to the fast-fashion industry with the UK alone throwing out 700,000 tonnes of clothes each year. Other materials used for retrofitting insulation include cellulose, fiberglass, radiant barrier and foam.

However, the most effective tool against heat wastage is air-tightness and building fabric, making passive design a highly important advancement in new buildings. For example, when windows are designed well, they can cut high-level solar gains in the summer. Air tightness and insulation renovations allow heat to stay out of the building in the summer and keep the heat in during the winter.

Energy efficiency measures and home improvements can save households about £1,000 a year in energy bills in the UK. Insulation reduces carbon emissions and can be as simple as doing little jobs around the house. The most common avenues are cavity wall insulation, insulating pipes and radiators, windows and doors, roof insulation, floor and solid wall insulation. According to the Energy Saving Trust, even just fitting your hot water cylinder with an insulating jacket will save you £35 a year in heating costs and more importantly, 115kg of carbon dioxide emissions.

The construction industry has been making some effort with their ESG practices in the past couple of years; increasing transparency, contributing to the sustainability targets of local governments and designing more thoughtful urban structures and cooperating with planners, stakeholders and tenants. Looking back to the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Industry Agenda Council report on the Future of Real Estate & Urbanization, it was mentioned that cavity wall insulation was a key component to help us adapt to climate change. However, this has come into sharper focus and is more relevant than ever in 2022 as the global climate crisis worsens.

Since the Paris agreement in 2015, the world of property is slowly catching up with the global environmental agenda. The sustainable trends in the real estate business are ever-growing, from low carbon transportation methods to energy risk management and supply chain sustainability. Many promises are made by world leaders at UN initiatives such as the climate change conference COP26. However, something as simple as insulating our homes in the right way could be the most crucial step for reducing energy wastage and hitting our sustainable targets.