I don’t know about you, but whenever I need to travel somewhere I start with where I’m going and when I need to get there by. I then decide on my route and modes of transport, pick an option that gets me there a bit early in case of any delays, and if any connections look a bit too tight I’ll opt for leaving earlier over risking missing them. The same is true of planning a project, writing a paper, or something as day-to-day as making sure I don’t run out of clean clothes. As the saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail.

This is what the Climate Change Committee has repeatedly criticised the Scottish Government for - being very good at setting targets but pretty abysmal at achieving them. Be it ferries, the Deposit Return Scheme, or reforesting, something entirely predictable always goes wrong.

This lack of understanding and planning is writ large in the shape of the current state of the Heat in Buildings Bill, with its emphasis on six “simple measures” that are so lacking in definition as to be meaningless. Just to pick one, “270mm of loft insulation” completely ignores the fact that insulation comes in many different types, with different thermal properties, and different types of insulation may be more or less preferable for different homes.

For example, my previous home was fitted with just 150mm of a sheep’s wool and recycled plastic mix and a clever boiler and benefitting from thick stone walls, was cozy in winter and overheated in the height of summer. Whereas my current home is fitted with 300mm of blown fibre cellulose, chosen for being particularly suitable for the property type, and still struggles to achieve the same level of comfort because of other problems that we’re addressing as we can afford them. However, we have a plan to get to net zero in the form of a list of measures, rough costs, and energy savings. We may be some time away from installing the large solar arrays, battery, and IR heaters, but the roof is now structurally sound and we’ve invested in treating the tiles with a coating that should future-proof them for at least twenty years. Getting the roof inspected and fixing it early on, at a cost just shy of five thousand pounds, has saved us several times the outlay on a new roof had we left it a few years longer.

Read more: 

Heat pumps: Myths, truths and costs – find all articles here

Can you fit a heat pump in an old Glasgow tenement flat?

Heat pumps myths and beyond: from costs to installation

Fixing things first and building in energy efficiency at each stage of a renovation gets you your best energy-saving bang for your buck and avoids higher costs down the line. Yet despite nearly half of Scottish homes needing repairs to critical elements, the consultation on the Heat in Buildings Bill made not one single mention of maintenance.

What we need, and something the draft Bill rules out, is getting suitably qualified professionals – chartered surveyors and equivalent – into every home in Scotland. This won’t come cheap, but the costs of doing it are dwarfed by the costs of not doing it. Not doing it means missing opportunities to nip costly maintenance problems in the bud. It means some homes will be under-insulated and others will be over-insulated. It means, particularly for those opting for heat pumps, that some homes will be fitted with under-sized systems and others with over-sized systems, resulting in unnecessary costs to householders and more demand placed on our already stretched electricity grid. It means risking installing measures that may later need to be replaced with more effective ones. And, especially for traditional properties, making the wrong choices can lead to costly damage to the building fabric.

The Herald: The Herald's series dispels myths around heat pumpsThe Herald's series dispels myths around heat pumps (Image: Newsquest)

And then there are the human costs. Poor thermal comfort – constantly being too cold or too hot – affects peoples’ physical and mental health, with knock-on costs to our health services. High energy bills, or just the fear of them, has a similar effect. And for those working from home offices, overheating comes with a potential loss of income.    

We can’t avoid needing to pay professionals because every home, and every householder, is an individual. Even seemingly identical homes can come with their own quirks and problems that may affect what options a professional includes in a plan to achieve net zero. And how householders want to be able to use their homes may influence those choices.

The Herald: Dr Keith Baker on why homes need heat plansDr Keith Baker on why homes need heat plans (Image: Dr Keith Baker)

Doing this would mean that every homeowner could plan ahead with the reassurance that an expert has given them the best and most accurate possible advice as to what will be most effective and cost-effective for their home and their household. It’s a world away from the basic Home Energy Checks delivered by the likes of the Energy Saving Trust, but there really is no alternative. Otherwise, and even allowing for whatever less ambitious climate targets the Scottish Government decides to adopt next, it will almost certainly fail them, again and again.

This isn’t rocket science, but it is building science, backed by basic project management skills and a healthy dose of common sense – all of which have been decidedly lacking in recent years. 

Dr Keith Baker FRSA is a Director and Convenor of the Energy Working Group at Common Weal; and a Director of Scientists for Global Responsibility.