Local couple slash household fuel bill by £1,000 a year as West Midlands looks to make hundreds more homes energy efficient



A Birmingham couple have told how they have slashed their household fuel bills by more than £1,000 a year by transforming their modest suburban semi into a retrofitted ‘super home’.

Harriet and Chris Martin spoke of their labour of love in dramatically cutting their home’s carbon footprint and energy consumption at an environment-focussed event organised by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA).

The Greener Together Forum heard how the couple had, over a number of years, carried out an extensive insulation programme on their 1930’s-built home in Bournville and installed other low carbon technology such as solar PV panels and energy saving lighting.

They estimate the work is now saving them around £1,000 a year in fuel bills and has reduced their gas usage by 65% and electricity by 70%.

Local couple slash household fuel bill by £1,000 a year as West Midlands looks to make hundreds more homes energy efficient

Birmingham couple, Harriet and Chris Martin.

The Forum also heard how the WMCA and other partners were now following the example of Harriet and Chris by putting in place a number of initiatives that will see similar retrofitting measures installed in hundreds more homes across the region in the months ahead.

Harriet Martin said: “We were initially motivated to make these changes to our home for climate change and it is encouraging to see the WMCA making similar steps for the right reasons. This will do wonders to fight the climate emergency as well as in turn, assist those with the current soaring energy costs.

“We're proof that making the effort to add these modifications to a home will result in huge benefits in creating a house that is relatively easy to keep cool in the summer and warmer in the winter months.

“The way we like to imagine it is that a home is like a sieve leaking energy and retrofitting allows for a cost-effective way to ensure that energy does not escape meaning you’re less likely to need to reach for the thermostat.”

The Forum coincided with the launch of two major retrofit schemes in the West Midlands. The first saw community engagement starting in Elmdon and Foleshill as part of the £3M Sustainable Warmth Competition awarded earlier this year, while a major consortium has commenced retrofit specification work for social housing across the region.

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands and chair of the WMCA, said: “Harriet and Chris are a wonderful example of the benefits, especially at a time when energy prices are soaring, that can be achieved by adopting more sustainable energy sourcing methods at home. We’ve got a lot to learn from their experiences and their commitment.

“That’s why we are determined to tackle the region’s climate emergency and retrofitting people’s homes is a key part of our plans to do just that. Our domestic buildings are some of the biggest energy users in the region. During this energy and cost of living crisis, therefore, it’s absolutely right that we help families cut their energy bills and avoid them falling into fuel poverty.

“Specifying the right solutions and building community support under these schemes is absolutely right, and I look forward to the installations getting underway in the Autumn.”

The Forum heard how the WMCA’s Energy Capital team, as part of a consortium including including Sandwell Council, Solihull Community Housing, City of Wolverhampton Council, Community Housing Group, Midland Heart, Orbit Housing Group, and Wrekin Housing Group, had successfully secured £7.5M from the government’s Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund.

This will be used to retrofit 600 social homes across the region, including the installation of low carbon heating systems and solar panels.

The work is aimed at not only providing warmer homes for tenants, as well as helping them tackle fuel poverty amid soaring energy costs, but also support the region’s fight against climate change and its ambition to achieve net zero by 2041.

Alongside this scheme, the Sustainable Warmth Competition programme has also now launched in Elmdon, Solihull, and Foleshill in Coventry, following the award of £2.86m from funding secured by WMCA from central government.

The WMCA, local authorities and other partners have been engaging with local residents in the two areas to take up the offer of support to retrofit their homes with a range of environmental solutions – from installing insulation to solar PV to low carbon heat pumps.

Cllr Ian Courts, leader of Solihull Council and WMCA portfolio holder for environment and energy, said: “It is great news that the funding schemes we’ve secured are up and running to help more people live in homes that will be both warmer and more energy-efficient has been confirmed. That’s both from a regional perspective as we strive to become net zero carbon by 2041, but also from in my own area of Elmdon in Solihull, where these schemes will have a major impact on people's lives.

“It’s also good to see that through the Energy Capital and SMART hub team, we’ll be making sure the right solutions are implemented and to the right quality. This is important not just for our homes and energy efficiency, but also in building confidence in the local retrofit marketplace – leading to economic growth in a key business sector.”

The SMART Hub (Sustainable Market for Affordable Retrofit Technologies) has been set up by the WMCA as part of its investment to deliver its net zero targets.

The team has already led the region in attracting more than £10m of funding for retrofit projects and has supported partners in additional bids of more than £14m.

The team is also providing advice in delivering the retrofit programmes on the ground and it is expected that this collaboration and capacity building will attract further funding going forward.

For more information about how the WMCA is tackling climate change, visit https://www.wmca.org.uk/what-we-do/environment-and-energy.