The C.H.E.E.S.E Project: improving energy efficiency and tackling fuel poverty in Bristol – and beyond
The C.H.E.E.S.E Project has big plans to scale up its unique thermal imaging surveys and step up sustainability nationwide. Founder, Managing Director and all-round big cheese of the project Mike Andrews explains how Centrica’s Energy for Tomorrow programme is supporting it…
Founded in 2014, The C.H.E.E.S.E Project (Cold Homes Energy Efficiency Survey Experts) is a Bristol-based Community Interest Company that uses unique thermal imaging surveys during cold weather to help householders identify how they could decrease domestic energy loss. Not only can their recommendations help to reduce energy bills and carbon emissions, but they can also improve health - as cold, draughty homes can be detrimental to both physical and mental wellbeing. The surveys are low cost, and offered for free to those in fuel poverty. Their aim is warmer homes and a cooler planet.
Energy for Tomorrow: supporting The C.H.E.E.S.E Project
Centrica’s Energy for Tomorrow programme was established to support the green innovations, start-ups and community projects that will help the UK get to net zero. It’s part of our People & Planet Plan, at the heart of which is our purpose: to help you live more sustainably, simply and affordably. In February 2021, Energy for Tomorrow awarded The C.H.E.E.S.E Project grant funding, as well as support from our team of experts, to enable it to scale up nationally through a franchise model.
What’s your background, and how did it prepare you for The C.H.E.E.S.E Project?
I trained as an engineer and worked as a science journalist at the BBC making programmes about environmental issues. When I left in 1991, I set up a company developing international exhibitions on the environment for places like the Eden Project. In 2014, my nephew used a thermal camera to do a survey of his house and shared it with me, knowing my interest in environmental issues.
What makes your thermal imaging unique?
We can fully involve the householder - they watch our Energy Tracing® on a tablet in real time and see the thermal image over a regular one to easily identify where the issues are. Draughts cause up to a third of a home’s energy loss and can be fixed for £100 – a brilliant low-cost way to be warmer, healthier, and save on fuel bills - which starts you on the journey towards deeper retrofit which the government reckons can cost £25,000- £40,000! We use a blower door to reduce the pressure inside so we can draw in cold outside air, then use the thermal camera to see where it’s coming in.
If you’re in the Bristol and Bath area, you can book a survey here and keep an eye on the website to find out when surveys will be available in other areas.
How does The C.H.E.E.S.E Project help those in fuel poverty?
When we obtain additional funding, C.H.E.E.S.E surveys are offered free to those in fuel poverty (which means you can’t afford to heat, eat AND pay your rent, so something - usually heating - is dropped), and that’s 9% of the Bristol population. In practice, this means people on housing benefit. We’ve done 118 free surveys so far, which is about 30% of the total. As the heating needs to be on for 24 hours prior to a survey, we can also offer a small subsidy to cover the cost of this.
What are The C.H.E.E.S.E Project’s ambitions?
We must improve the efficiency of homes because there’s no way we’re going to meet the requirements of the Climate Change Act otherwise. By identifying where improvements can be made at low cost, we can help reduce a home’s carbon footprint, which is vital to achieving net zero. The community aspect is key too – we want to lift people out of fuel poverty, as well as providing employment opportunities through our training.
What problems do your surveys highlight?
We’ve found huge great holes in walls because once they’d had gas fires that required ventilation, or due to old building legislation. We also see issues with badly fitted or sealed windows, poor insulation and drylining, all of which can allow cold air into the home.
What will the Energy for Tomorrow grant be used for?
We want to develop The C.H.E.E.S.E. Project to be financially sustainable without grants so it can be scaled up nationally. It needs to be a model as well as a pilot, and we need to create a manual, so every franchisee knows exactly how to run the replica business. We’ll be able to take on some staff, and design an automated online booking system that will save so much time. We’re also developing our CPD training course for our Energy Tracers® so that much of it can be done remotely. The fact that the grant runs for three years is brilliant, because that allows us the time to firmly establish ourselves so hopefully we’re able to pay our way by the end.
Have you benefitted from any expertise alongside the funding?
Yes, a session on measuring social impact was very useful. Once we expand beyond Bristol and Bath, hopefully later this year, we’re hoping for support to help us show British Gas customers how we can help them make their homes more energy-efficient and reduce their energy bills.
Have you had any setbacks so far?
We’ve had so many grants turned down, which is always a blow. And of course Covid stopped us in our tracks – that was a season and a half gone as we only do our surveys in colder weather, because there needs to be at least an 8-degree difference between indoor and outdoor temperature for them to work well.
Aside from scaling up to become a franchise, what other plans do you have for the future?
We’ve already designed a unique Heatview® app and are testing our own bespoke camera prototypes for use next winter, which are far cheaper, and developing a new blower door. We want to introduce ‘Warm Up Skill Up’, a programme to train people to do some of the remedial work themselves post-survey to break down barriers to DIY-style retrofit action. We’re also working on the ability to do surveys in warmer weather.