The government’s flagship environmental ‘Green Deal’ policy is finally set to launch this autumn and doubtless there will be those sighing a fanfare of relief if the initiative delivers on its bid to boost the energy efficiency of the UK building stock. Paul Thompson investigates.
A timely kick-start for a battered construction sector would be particularly useful given the country’s slip deeper into recession on the back of a summer of Eurozone bailouts and gloomier spending predictions.
One of the markets tipped to benefit most from the programme is that of external wall insulation (EWI) system installation. Forecasters believe the move will kick-start a wave of interest. But will the Green Deal really give the green light to a spate of spending on the UK’s existing housing stock and is the industry fully primed to deliver a surge of orders?
On the face of it there are plenty of companies with enough experience and expertise ready and willing to take on the challenge of fitting EWI systems on our stock of hard-to-treat properties.
However there are concerns that the qualifying requirements of the initiative could cause some issues with companies and installers needing to be able to prove their competency before being able to work on a Green Deal project. “Everyone has to be certified,” says Angela Mansell, operations director at Mansell Finishes and president of FPDC. “That might mean some extra training for staff and extra costs for companies. The government has pledged a further £2.5million for training but at the moment everything still seems unorganised despite its launch being imminent.”
Whether not enough is being done to clear EWI systems installers for the Green Deal initiative is a moot point but what is beyond question is that if the plastering and drywall sector doesn’t step up to the plate then others will.
Already roof and cavity wall installers are being mobilised to take a slice of the EWI pie despite it being such a close relation to the plastering and drywall sector. Essentially it’s just a question of using the skills plasterers already use on the inside of a building and applying them to the outside skin. Even the installation of brick-slip type cladding panels is a move that the sector should be able to cope with.
“Where the traditional aesthetic of the house needs to be kept then we will need to be able to offer that installation too,” says Kevin Naughton, managing director at Hertfordshire based contractor RPN. “As an industry that’s something we should be able to cope with,” he adds.
Where there could be issues though is on the preparation of each house before EWI systems are installed; moving guttering, downpipes, TV aerials and satellite dishes ready for installation contractors to come in and do their work.
System manufacturers claim they are doing their part to quell those worries by offering training schemes and help for installers. They also claim that the installation of EWI systems has been simplified as much as possible. “They are about as easy to install as you can get. We have looked at many things over the years and I don’t think we can get much more simple to fix and finish,” says Paul Kirby, sales director at Wetherby Building Systems.
He argues that the Green Deal will see a shift in focus for manufacturers, suppliers and installers. Currently the bulk of EWI work is on larger social housing schemes where teams of installers are able to move onto blocks after just such enabling work has been carried out.
But if the Green Deal takes off it will see more private homes being registered and that fundamental shift between larger projects and separate ‘one-offs’ could prove difficult for some and require an adaptation of business strategy for others.
It is a point that is not lost on many in the industry. “It will mean working on individual homes and that is a very different marketplace for some who have been involved in the more commercial applications,” says Ms Mansell, adding: “Being in direct contact with your customers isn’t for everyone.”
It is a change in emphasis that other EWI system manufacturers have noticed too.
“The size of the jobs will change and we have to be ready to react to that,” says Saint-Gobain Weber EWI product manager Barry Ephgrave. “We’re used to social housing projects where teams might be installing for six months or more. The Green Deal will change the emphasis to maybe 100sq m for the average semi-detached – we have to think about the logistics of supplying those projects.”
But the sense of anticipation over the initiative is palpable throughout the industry.
It could just be that it proves to be the fillip the industry needs during the long, dark days of winter.