Does Northern Ireland have some of the worst insulated houses?

CLAIM: Northern Ireland has some of the worst insulated houses in Western Europe.

CONCLUSION: UNSUBSTANTIATED. There are unknown data for home insulation measures across Europe. A manufacturer’s survey suggests that houses in Great Britain perform poorly in retaining heating temperatures.

During a discussion about climate change on the 31st October 2021 edition of BBC Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence programme, John Barry claimed (at 1:01:15): “We have some of the worst insulated houses in Western Europe.”

Insulation measures for dwellings generally include window double glazing, cavity or solid wall insulation, and loft/roof insulation.

Home insulation measures

In the UK, information on insulation in dwellings is available in house condition surveys, published separately in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

The most recent available data from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive’s 2016 House Condition Survey found that:

    • 87% of NIHE dwellings had full double glazing (81% in 2011);
    • 65% had full cavity wall insulation (66% in 2011);
    • 54% had loft insulation more than 150mm (35% in 2011);
    • 2% had no loft insulation.

This table collates the most recent data across the four jurisdictions’ separate house condition surveys. Note that the surveys use differing methodologies and cover different timescales, so direct comparisons are complicated.

Table 1. Insulation measure by UK jurisdiction (year)

Insulation measure Northern Ireland (2016) England 

(2019)

Scotland 

(2019)

Wales 

(2018)

Full double glazing 87% 86% 93% [1] 93%
Full cavity wall insulation 65% 50% 73% 68%
Loft insulation >200mm 54% [2] 39% 65% 45%

Notes: [1] for Scotland, the figure is for double glazing in 2014; [2] for Northern Ireland, the figure is for loft installation more than 150mm.

FactCheckNI was unable to find any European-wide survey of dwelling insulation measures.

Energy-efficient housing stock

A related topic is the energy efficiency of a house. The less energy efficient a dwelling is, the more expensive it will be to heat.

Source: Tado

The thermostat manufacturer Tado conducted a survey that measured heat loss in homes in selected European countries. We can treat this survey as a way of quantifying the energy efficiency of houses. No Northern Ireland homes were surveyed. The survey found that a home in Great Britain with an indoor temperature of 20°C and an outdoor temperature of 0°C loses on average 3°C after five hours, compared with a 1°C loss in Germany. The conclusion is that home heating systems in Great Britain have to work harder to maintain the temperature.

Other statistics

An EU project, EPISCOPE, monitors building stock to provide data and evidence about the energy refurbishment process in the European housing sector. For example, scenarios of improvements for different housing types in particular countries can be reviewed on the project’s Tabula section. There are also 16 country case studies that examine the implementation of energy savings measures.

The age of housing stock is also used as a measure of energy efficiency: older dwellings tend to have been constructed without the energy efficiency measures built into newer dwellings. The research group BRE stated in 2015 that the UK has the oldest stock in comparison to EU member states, with approximately 38% of UK homes dating from before 1946, compared with 24% for Germany and Sweden.

Within the UK, stock profiles of dwellings in Northern Ireland (2009), England (2008), and Wales (2008) suggest that Northern Ireland had the highest percentage of newer dwellings (34% post-1980) and lowest of older dwellings (25% pre-1945). In comparison, Wales had the highest percentage of older dwellings (41%) and lowest of newer dwellings (18%). All three countries had a similar percentage (41%) of dwellings aged from 1945 to 1980.

Summary

FactCheckNI was unable to substantiate the claim that Northern Ireland has some of the worst insulated houses in Western Europe, because we could not find data for insulation measures for dwellings across Europe. This data may become available in the future.

A survey in 2015 by a manufacturer suggests that houses in Great Britain have poor energy efficiency, as its UK (Great Britain) result shows the worst heat loss performance among a selection of European countries.

Finally, while the UK has the highest percentage of older housing stock in Europe, data from over a decade ago shows that Northern Ireland has the lowest percentage of older stock compared to England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.