Following an announcement by Minister Denis Naughten late last year, SEAI has introduced a number of changes to the Better Energy Homes scheme, including increased grants for external wall insulation, the elimination of grants for fossil-fuelled boilers, increased heating controls grants and, most excitingly, a new heat pump grant from April (See Table A). The objectives are to drive building fabric upgrades and stimulate an accelerated decarbonisation of heat supply.
Heat pump grant details explained
Why heat pumps? Primarily to accelerate the move away from fossil fuels towards renewable forms of heating. Hence the discontinuation of the grant for oil/gas boilers with controls, and the introduction of a single higher grant for heating controls only. The addition of a heat pump grant arises from the ongoing review of the programme and the objective of supporting more renewable heating options, on top of the solar
Heat pumps are very efficient electrical devices that convert energy from the outside of the home into useful heat in the home, in the same way a fridge extracts heat from its inside. They even work in Ireland’s cold winters. This extracted heat can then be used to heat the home and hot water. The beauty of a heat pump is that every unit of electricity used in the process yields about four units of heat. In well-insulated houses they are very economical to run and are an extremely efficient alternative to fossil fuel-based heating systems. There are different types of heat pumps including air-to-water, ground source to water, exhaust air-to-water, water-to-water and air-to-air heat pumps.
Why the focus on “fabric first” for heat pumps? For optimum efficiency, heat pumps should only be installed in well-insulated homes. If the home is not properly insulated it is highly likely that it will not be heated properly and the homeowner’s electricity bills will be higher than expected. To address this, SEAI has introduced a process to ensure that the homes are suitable for a heat pump based on a “fabric first” approach.
The minimum requirement will be based on the total heat loss for the dwelling, which includes the fabric and ventilation heat loss. The Heat Loss Indicator, or HLI, is the Total Heat Loss per m2 of dwelling floor area. This can be calculated using the Dwelling Energy Assessment Procedure or DEAP software used to determine a home’s Building Energy Rating. The HLI will be used to determine the energy performance of the dwelling for the purpose of the Better Energy Homes grants for heat pump systems and must be no more than 2W/K m2..
Central to determining this calculation will be the role of an independent SEAI registered Technical Advisor who will carry out the required technical assessment to determine the suitability of a home for a heat pump system.
How can the Heat Loss Indicator (HLI) of a poorly-performing home be improved? The Technical Assessment report will set out the specifics for each individual home. It is likely to include recommendations to improve the insulation of the walls, attic and possibly floor. It may also require the installation of high-performance double or triple-glazed windows and doors. Doing this will generally make a home more airtight. This is good but will necessitate a ventilation strategy for occupant health and to protect against condensation effects. That might sound like a contradiction, but ventilation is extremely important.
SEAI already offers grants for three types of wall insulation (external wall insulation, internal dry lining and cavity wall insulation) as well as attic insulation.
Who is the Technical Advisor and what does he/she do? An independent SEAI registered Technical Advisor will be an engineer, architect, quantity surveyor or relevant construction professional who is also a registered Domestic BER Assessor and who has attended an SEAI Technical Advisor workshop.
(S)he will use the DEAP software to determine the Heat Loss Indicator and thus the home’s suitability for a heat pump. This information may already be available from a current valid BER for the property. If no current BER exists then the advisor will publish an up-to-date BER, a prerequisite for a heat pump grant. The Technical Advisor will produce a Technical Assessment which will indicate that either the home is already heat pump ready or, if not, what upgrades are necessary to make it so.
At the time of applying for a heat pump grant the homeowner is required to upload the Technical Assessment document attesting to the home’s eligibility or what needs to be done to achieve eligibility. Where upgrade works are necessary then the Technical Assessment document can be used by the homeowner to get quotes from contractors for these works. Homeowners who successfully proceed with a grant-aided heat pump system installation will receive a €200 grant towards the cost of the Technical Advisor.
The introduction of the independent SEAI registered Technical Advisor role is a further step to help professionalise residential retrofitting. SEAI will soon publish a list of independent SEAI-registered Technical Advisors on its website. To be eligible for registration candidates must be a registered Domestic BER Assessor and have a FETAC Level 7 in engineering/architecture/quantity surveying/construction or equivalent (must demonstrate adequate experience and full membership of relevant professional associations).
What are the requirements to register as a heat pump installer? To be eligible to register as a heat pump installer for the Better Energy Homes programme, candidates must have:
— Fetac Level 6 Plumbing Certificate with minor in electrics;
— A Certificate of Competency from the manufacturer(s) of the appliance(s) they intend to install;
— From 1 January 2019 Fetac Level 6 in Heat Pump Installation, or registration on SEAI’s Register of Renewables Installers.
As with all other registered contractors under the programme, heat pump installers will also be required to abide by the Better Energy Homes Terms and Conditions, including requirements to be tax compliant and properly insured. They must complete the installation in full accordance with the Code of Practice. They will also be subject to SEAI’s quality assurance and disciplinary procedure. The heat pump section in the Code of Practice is now being updated.
Are there any differences to other Better Energy Homes grant eligibility terms? Aside from the requirement for the Technical Assessment report, only one eligibility term is different for the heat pump system grant. The year of construction and first occupation for the home in question must be before 2011. This eligibility criteria has also been extended to the solar thermal grant. Homes built after this date were subject to Building Regulations which mandated a minimum level of renewables.
[For insulation grants and heating control grants under the Better Energy Homes programme, the requirement remains unchanged where construction and first occupation must be before 2006].