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Winter is coming, and how we heat care homes is more important than ever

The onset of winter means increased heating costs, and this year many care homes face even higher bills because of COVID-19 safety measures. But help is at hand, explains Alasdair Dalzel-Job.

Find out about our fully-funded business support

Care homes have been at the epicentre of the UK’s COVID-19 crisis. As a result, they are having to follow strict guidelines to prevent outbreaks and minimise infections.

The first line of defence is of course to prevent COVID-19 entering care homes in the first place. However, one of several ways care homes are trying to minimise the risk of spreading the virus indoors is by increasing ventilation. For larger, purpose-built care homes, this may not be a major challenge. Many will have mechanical air handling systems in place that can be adjusted to increase the ventilation rate. However, smaller, older and/or converted buildings are much less likely to have this sort of infrastructure in place.

This means that many care homes have no choice but to depend on leaving windows and doors open to increase natural ventilation. But winter is now on the doorstep. The combination of colder outside temperatures, open windows and outdated heating systems could result in a nasty shock on care homes’ energy bills.

Quick solutions

The challenge of ventilating rooms may be unavoidable in the short-term, but excessively high energy costs are not. So let’s look at what can be done, starting with low or zero cost measures.

Simply improving the management of existing heating systems can make a surprisingly large difference. This could include:

  • Ensuring boiler maintenance and servicing is up-to-date
  • Reviewing temperature set points and timers
  • Looking at the placement and tamper-proofing of heating controls and thermostatic valves
  • Turning radiators off in unoccupied rooms
  • Ensuring pipework and cylinders are properly insulated (lagging)
  • Reviewing hot water usage.

Larger solutions for larger savings

The above measures are assuming that heating is gas-fired and relatively up-to-date. If the boiler is outdated, or the building is oil or electrically heated, it may be worth looking at replacing or part-replacing the system.

There are a range of solutions on the market that avoid the need to change existing pipework and radiators, from more efficient gas-fired or biomass boilers to ground source or air source heat pumps. Alternatively, it may be feasible to install a full heat recovery system, which would recover the majority of waste heat going out of the building and prevent the need to open windows in the first place.

Even if the heating system is efficient and fit-for-purpose, naturally ventilating rooms during winter is still going to increase heating costs. Investing in non-heating-related measures such as LED lighting or even more efficient laundry systems and dryers, could help to offset these increased costs.

Our Energy Efficiency Grant

We’re able to provide capital grant support of up to £12,500 for most energy efficiency projects. From the care homes and hospices we have already worked with, we have been able to achieve average energy savings of £8,500 through grant-funded projects – and this was before COVID-19. Taking into account the current need for increased ventilation, average savings are now likely to be much higher.

Find out more about our grant

Ultimately, the lack of capital should never be a reason for not committing to energy efficiency projects. You can often make investments work through cash neutral or even cash positive finance models that base repayments on the savings you achieve.                                            

Cash savings are not the only benefit of energy efficiency. Being able to demonstrate improved environmental performance to stakeholders and customers is becoming more and more important – especially for tendered contracts with local councils and the NHS.

How we work

Our expert resource efficiency advisors will help to identify opportunities for energy efficiency, quantify the savings and guide care homes operators through the grant process. Traditionally, our service would include a face-to-face visit, but we can still provide support remotely. A virtual guided walkround of the site via video is enough for us to identify the most suitable measures for most buildings.


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Alasdair Dalzel-Job

Alasdair Dalzel-Job, Environmental Business Advisor

Alasdair provides resource efficiency and environmental risk support to businesses, helping them to identify and implement low carbon solutions. As well as a Master’s degree in clean technology, Alasdair has 17 years' experience in the environmental field. He is an ESOS Lead Assessor, a member of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management, an Associate Member of IEMA and an IEMA Associate Environmental Auditor.

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