Homes and Energy Survey, 2021 Thank-you to everyone who took part in Watlington Climate Action Group’s Homes and Energy survey over the summer. We heard from more than 60 householders across the parish, who provided information about their homes and heating systems, cost of heating bills and whether they were planning any home upgrades.
Summary of house types
Of the homes included in the survey, ages ranged from pre-1850 to one home post-2003. The most common types were those built from 1965-2002, but there were also significant numbers pre-1900.
The majority of respondents' homes were semi-detached or detached. There were no responses from householders in one-bedroom homes, an even distribution of homes with 2, 3 and 4 bedrooms, and a small number with 5 or more. Most homes were two-storey, without a cellar.
Whilst we don’t know how representative of all homes the survey responses were, it does clearly demonstrate there is a wide range of types and ages of homes in the parish, and we will use the information gathered to help inform Watlington Climate Action Group’s strategy and plans on homes and energy.
This section asked respondents about the construction of their homes, looking at four areas: walls, roof, floor and windows.
Wall insulation was an interesting question, of respondents whose homes are solid wall (usually older homes), only 40% of walls have some type of insulation, whereas in homes with cavity walls, more than 80% had insulation installed. This is an easier win for those with cavity walls as it's very easy to retrofit. For those in solid-wall homes, wall insulation is a much more difficult proposition.
Most homes were pitched-roof with some insulation installed (although the amount of insulation was not asked in the survey), but in these pitched-roof homes, a sixth have no insulation at all. Where the loft space is accessible, this is a clear opportunity to improve insulation in these homes.
The majority of homes were of solid-floor construction, with around a fifth having suspended timber floors (typical in older homes). Another fifth of respondents didn't know the construction type of their floor.
A large majority of our respondents' homes had double glazing (with some homes also having mixed types). Surprisingly, nearly 10% of respondents couldn't answer the question about the type of glazing in their home.
Heating and hot water
Slightly more than half our respondents use gas for heating their homes, and nearly 30% use electricity. The remainder use heating oil, LPG gas, coal or biomass. This is significantly different from the national average, where gas is the dominant fuel type (86% of homes nationally). However, publicly available data on the whole of Watlington supports what our survey found – that gas is less dominant than elsewhere in the UK, and electrical heating systems in more homes than is typical. This is caused by periods of housing development in Watlington which were not connected to the gas-grid, but had direct electric and night storage heaters installed instead.
Of those on gas, a slight majority of respondents have conventional boilers in their homes, with slightly fewer having combi boilers (which also heat water). This is mirrored by the data on hot water cylinders, which are found in ¾ of respondents homes, but not those with combi boilers.
In terms of heat emitters, nearly all homes (85%) have radiators, reflecting the sum of gas, LPG and oil boilers. A small majority of respondents said their home had more than one type of heat emitter, including underfloor heating and towel rails alongside radiators.
A large majority of respondents' homes have a 'wet' radiator system, with a significant minority having electric heating (either direct electric or night-storage heaters). This is both an opportunity and an issue: with the proposed long-term transition to heat pumps, those homes without a gas supply will be able to install a radiator system, but on the other hand most radiator systems will need to be re-sized to support lower circulation temperatures.
Heating system use
Most of our respondents are using their heating system in one of two modes: the majority have heating on in the morning and evening, and around a third use it all day but switch it off at night. There are some notable exceptions, including those homes with electric storage heaters. Slightly more than 10% of respondents said they have their heating on all day and all night (during winter), and there is (perhaps surprisingly) no correlation between this and the age, type and size of house, or its heating system type.
There was a large range of temperature set points reported for heating systems, ranging from 16°C to 23°C, with the median setting in our survey of 20°C. Some householders set different temperatures in different parts of their homes, or use a range of settings – this may reflect different required comfort levels at different times of day, or that a home is struggling to keep warm due to draughts or cold weather. However, further questions weren’t asked in this survey to clarify these points.
This section included questions on energy bills, but the survey pre-dates the current energy-market price crisis, so figures may have changed significantly in the intervening period, and shouldn’t be taken to be reflective of current bills (autumn 2021).
Electricity bills had a median of £50-£100 a month, with a small number of respondents saying they spend more than £200 a month on electricity. Gas bills were, on average, reported as slightly lower per month, but also had a median of £50-£100. More respondents reported bills of <£50 a month for gas than electricity, and only one respondent had a gas bill exceeding £200 a month.
Overall, energy costs were typically below 10% of monthly household expenditure. Above this level a household may be considered to be in ‘fuel poverty’, although the definitions vary based on other socio-economic factors.
Around a quarter of our respondents couldn’t answer questions on the energy bills, but this may reflect the fact that at least half were interviewed in-person, and many couldn’t easily recall energy bills, so shouldn’t be taken to mean respondents are unaware of the costs.
The majority of respondents consider their household energy consumption to be 'average' (selfdefined), with equal numbers saying they spent more, or less, than average.
Renewables and home upgrades
Although nearly half of respondents didn't have any renewable technologies in their homes, the rest did: solar panels (PV) were most popular, followed by solar thermal, heat pumps and batteries, with some homes having more than one technology installed. However, there remains a big opportunity to encourage householders in the parish to adopt renewable technologies in their homes, especially during routine maintenance cycles (e.g. boiler needing replacement).
Of our respondents, a significant number are not planning energy efficiency upgrades in the near future, but nearly half were open to these, or actively planning to do so.
At the time of the survey, there were nearly 20 separate energy companies named as suppliers by our respondents, with the most commonly used being: British Gas, Octopus, SSE and Bulb. This is a situation which may have changed recently due to energy market turmoil, with the expectation that many smaller suppliers may go out of business.
In a sign that our respondents are those already engaged with renewables and energy saving measures, almost half are already using a renewable energy supplier. Of the rest, 6 in 7 said they would definitely or possibly consider switching to one. It's not a good time to change supplier right now, but we'll share information with the community when the energy market has stabilised.
Thank-you to Alex, Lawrence and Sophie for helping with in-person questionnaires at the Town Hall, and for completing data entry on this project, and to Watlington Parish Council for providing use of their SurveyMonkey account for data collection.
If you have any questions about the survey, please email us on: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kate Brown, October 2021