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First Thermal develops unique thermal imaging technology to save energy in homes

For nearly 10 years, a not-for-profit community initiative, Cold Homes Energy Efficiency Survey Experts (CHEESE), has been delivering its unique thermal-imaging surveying system to help fight domestic energy loss across Bristol. To respond to the escalating demand for these surveys across the UK, First Thermal has been set up to franchise the CHEESE Project for homeowners nationwide, offering the opportunity to save money and stay warm while reducing impact on the planet.

After surveying over 600 homes to date across Bristol and winning four awards, including the industry-leading Big Pitch Award for Innovation at Futurebuild, and with many community groups currently looking to do more to help households save energy at home but many lacking the skills, knowledge or experience to help them, First Thermal can provide a long-term solution to bridge the gap where government initiatives have failed.

In 2022, an estimated 13.4 percent of households were in fuel poverty in England under the Low Income Low Energy Efficiency metric, up from 13.1 percent in 2021. It is projected that in 2023, this will increase to 14.4 percent. Mike Andrews, former BBC senior environmental TV producer and founder of First Thermal, says, “A household that is unable to afford to heat their home to an adequate temperature due to a combination of low income, high fuel prices and poor energy efficiency is in fuel poverty. A staggering number of people in the UK are now in this unfortunate situation and are suffering dire consequences, including poor health, from living in a cold home. UK homes leak more energy than in any other country in Europe. With annual household energy bills at least doubled we must address this crisis for the 22 million homes in the UK.”

To combat climate change and fuel poverty, First Thermal enables householders to take the first steps to making their homes more energy efficient and saving money by identifying exactly where heat is escaping. Those behind the project have developed an internal Heatview® enhanced thermal survey. A large extractor fan is fitted to an external door and run continuously to reduce the pressure inside the building. This causes cold air to be drawn in through any gaps, replicating the effect of a strong breeze. Their thermal imaging camera reveals cold areas inside each room, which point to thermal faults in the fabric of the building. These may be caused by gaps to the outside through which draughts are pulled by the fan or by poor thermal insulation from cold bridging, missing insulation or faulty construction. Seeing a thermal image is five times more effective in engaging participants than a written report, so the householder views the thermal images on a tablet screen throughout the survey, which is then delivered as a video with sound on a memory-stick. Two thirds of customers take remedial action within a month of survey, with a householder telling us, “When you see it, you know you can fix it”.

Mike told us, “Following Heatview® surveys, householders are no longer daunted by the high costs of major structural remedies. By precisely indicating the faults, the householder knows where to start and can address them with DIY and with a budget as low as £100, giving rapid payback in comfort, health and cash. Seeing and feeling the improvement engages them to progress to deeper energy-saving actions, called retrofit. Most importantly, knowing what is precisely wrong with a home first leads to highly cost-effective, targeted retrofit and a saving in expense. After one year, 87 percent of those surveyed have carried out remedial action, notably starting with low-cost DIY-style interventions. 85 percent reported their homes were warmer. We are disrupting the traditional, one-remedy-fits-all, top-down retrofit approach fostered by government which has failed to attract and satisfy customers.”

With the average global temperature for 2023 forecast to be between 1.08C and 1.32C above the average for the pre-industrial period, this year looks set to be the 10th in succession that temperatures have reached at least 1C above those historic levels, according to the Met Office. Winter extremes are expected to worsen as the energy in the atmosphere increases.

Mike said, “Now more than ever, we need to step up and take action for the planet that sustains us. Addressing environmental issues requires a collective effort from individuals, businesses, governments and organisations to reduce our impact on the environment, preserve natural resources and protect the ecosystems, of which we are a part, that sustain life on Earth. By taking care of the planet, we are also taking care of ourselves and future generations.”

First Thermal has been set up to socially franchise CHEESE to replicate the project, developed in Bristol, throughout the UK. Aiming to grow the reach and impact of its community-based not-for-profit project addressing domestic energy loss, First Thermal is now seeking franchisees with whom to replicate its business UK-wide.