Tackling Climate Crisis: Locating and targeting homes that require insulation in the UK

The UK is facing a continued challenge to insulate its housing stock, resulting in cold and ‘hard to heat’ homes. Despite, for decades, the provision of Government grants, free insulation and tasking the ‘Big 6’ Energy Companies to drive Programmes nationwide progress has stalled. Surely it cannot be that hard to install loft or cavity wall insulation (it is not), so why to 2020 most recent data, do only 39% of dwellings have loft insulation and 49%  have cavity wall insulation?

We will have a brief look at some of the key reasons that may be slowing up the improvements in energy efficiency for UK householders and then outline how an innovative drone centric approach could help to move the status quo. To help drive down Carbon usage and reduce the misery for householders in Fuel Poverty.

What Might Be Holding Up Energy Efficiency in UK Homes?

One reason may be that many homes are still difficult to locate and target for insulation measures. The latest figures from the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy show that there are still around 9 million homes in England which require Loft Insulation and 12 million which require Cavity Wall Insulation.

Another reason is that as the number of ‘easy to find’ houses (e.g., clustered together such as Local Authority Housing) that require insulation have been tackled and in a cost-effective way for insulation providers, that it is simply too expensive to make commercially viable.

It would be remiss to ignore the fact that a certain element of the UK population is living in fuel poverty (>10% household expenditure on heating fuels) and unable to make effective changes to their homes. It is also worth noting that a lack of awareness about insulation measures and how to access them may play a role.

The economic/commercial cost of targeting, installing, and retaining margins is in my view probably one of the biggest reasons. Since the Green Fund Scheme, EEC and Green Home Vouchers scheme the incentive focus from Government seems to be on ‘quick fixes’ or at least one-off fixes such as increasing Winter Fuel Payments. As opposed to addressing the long-term issue of energy efficiency in the UK housing stock.

How Can Drones Help to Progress Housing Stock Energy Efficiency?

Insulation programmes have never been delivered in isolation – they have been a combination of efforts by Government Departments to inject funding/grants, Local Authorities, Energy Companies to apply resources and efforts in terms of targeting and commercial installers to gear up their services to deliver cost effectively.

The technology in drones, their cameras, range, safety, and accuracy has massively increased in the last 10 years. Infrared FLIR cameras are available on drones either as an integrated solution or as a payload carried by the drone. Their imaging has increased in its accuracy meaning that drones can fly higher, further, and still capture meaningful data. So that much larger areas of housing can, with the right permissions, be analysed to identify ‘low insulation’ roofs and walls, especially in the Winter.

This data can be processed quickly and cheaply using GIS solutions to identify the target houses. It is worth noting that as drone technology improves so do their payload capacities meaning that in time, drones could one day be used to physically install the insulation materials themselves.

There will be the need for the drone company to get express permissions to fly certain areas but with the correct safety credentials and planning this is not insurmountable.

For commercial energy efficiency measure installers, this would mean a step-change increase in their ability to target and win work. For Local Authorities and Government, it would mean a more cost-effective way to identify areas of high need for insulation measures.

In Summary

The benefits that can be delivered by drones in this context are:


  • Reduced Costs – Drones can quickly and cheaply identify homes that need insulation (particularly those that are hard to spot/find).
  • Increased Efficiency – Drones can be used to quickly target and map out areas for installers which reduces time onsite. Improved Accuracy – Drones can help to identify problem areas (e.g., gaps, voids) that might be missed by a human surveyor.
  • Improved Safety – Drones can be used to survey hard to reach areas without the need for scaffolding or cherry pickers.

In our view, drones offer a real opportunity to progress the energy efficiency of UK housing stock in a cost effective and timely manner. In conclusion, there are several reasons why the UK housing stock has not seen greater improvements in energy efficiency. However, the use of drones in this context can help to address some of these issues and deliver a significant dent into improving the insulation of the UK housing stock and reductions in carbon emissions.

If you would like to find out more about how we could work together, ideas I have for how to narrow down the areas to target (using data and insights) and our drones services could help your insulation programme please get in touch.

Basis of authors' perspective

I now run a drone company, however I spent many years working for ‘one of the big six energy firms’ with their EEC team working with many others to deliver energy efficiency programmes for residential customers. My specialism was in ‘Fuel Poverty’ lobbying OfGEM, working with Local Authorities, DWP and other organisations, devising appropriate and innovative ways to use data/insight to seek and deliver insulation free of charge/heavily subsidised to some of the poorest householders in the UK. 7 years after leaving the organisation it surprises me that since then much less has been achieved than in that era which is what triggered me to write this article. 

Mark Elliott – MD, S4G Drone Services. 

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City view Drone shot captured by the S4G Drone Services team