Latest Issue

A new way of keeping warm

A group of abseilers is working to change the way British homes consume energy

By Prospect Team  

Does the City pay its way?

In Tower Hamlets, the central East London borough, a group of abseilers is helping to bring about a change in the way British homes conserve energy. New energy efficiency standards have been set by the Coalition Government meaning that now, energy providers must ensure that they install energy saving measures under the Energy Companies Obligation programme (ECO) to help households to reduce Co2 emissions.

With new structures, these efficiencies are easier to make, as they can be included in the building as it is constructed. Older homes, however, can pose problems when it comes to installing energy efficiency measures—but the challenge is an order of magnitude greater when the buildings in question are tower blocks.

EDF Energy, as part of the ECO programme, has a four-year plan under which the industry has to help customers reduce carbon emissions as well as reducing energy bills, and is trying out a novel way of making tower blocks more energy efficient. These measures are targeted at those customers who are most vulnerable and inhabit ‘hard to treat’ properties.

“The usual way of installing cavity wall insulation in tower blocks is by installing scaffolding,” says Eric Salomon, the Energy Field Services Director of EDF Energy. Once this has been erected, the walls can then be insulated from the outside. But this process can be prohibitively time-consuming and expensive, especially if several tower blocks have to be worked on.

In order to make cavity wall insulation under ECO a realistic proposition for tower blocks, EDF Energy has opted to use abseilers, a decision that has dramatically reduced costs and disruption for tenants.

There are four abseilers in the group, who rappel down the sides of the tower blocks, installing the insulation from the outside using an ingenious new method.

“They will inject a special insulating material substance within the cavity of the wall,” says Salomon, who goes on to explain that the abseilers first drill a small hole in the exterior wall of the building, through which they then inject the cavity wall insulating material. Using this method, it takes the team on average just one week to insulate a tower block.

“When you are talking about energy efficiency, London is a peculiar place,” he says. “Traffic jams and other types of congestion mean that creating access is more difficult.” It is hoped that this new method will help bring change to the way that companies view energy efficiency projects, especially those in the high-density areas of London and Britain’s other larger cities. These central urban areas are where the highest concentration of high-rise buildings can be found.

The Tower Hamlets project will carry on into 2016. The cavity wall injection process is the first step in a process that will also include external wall and flat roof insulation. These latter two stages will require the use of scaffolding.

In total 500 East London households will benefit from the project, which will run to 12 buildings. If the use of abseilers is a success I London, then EDF Energy will consider introducing this method of providing cavity wall insulation more widely across its other ECO work in the rest of Britain. “If we have any opportunity to do the same elsewhere then we will,” says Salomon.

The effect of the work is that “it will help the customers to feel warmer,” says Salomon. He also stresses that in the summer months the buildings that have been insulated in this way will avoid heat transfer between the inside and the outside. This means that the insulation will not increase the need for air conditioning during warmer weather.

“If it’s really hot outside, the building should keep the cooler air inside,” he says.

In the past EDF Energy has done projects with the Borough of Kingston and other local authorities to find new ways of working in a city as challenging as London. The Tower Hamlets project has the potential to change the way that cavity wall insulation in introduced in large buildings across the rest of the country by reducing the costs involved, making ECO measures accessible for more households. The use of external wall insulation panels could also change the way they look—for the better.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to

More From Prospect