HomeBehaviour changeHow selling comfort and warmth can encourage more homeowners to insulate

How selling comfort and warmth can encourage more homeowners to insulate

This is a guest post by Toby Hopwood, communications specialist at the National Social Marketing Centre (NSMC).

How can you encourage households to insulate their lofts when the financial case alone leaves them cold?

We often assume that lower utility bills are what will motivate the less environmentally-concerned to save energy. But work carried out by The NSMC and Newcastle City Council shows that when time is taken to explore the attitudes and beliefs of specific household groups, other benefits can be revealed that are powerful motivators to action. By taking this approach, councils can find low-cost ways to reposition existing services, overcoming the main barriers to installing important measures such as loft insulation.

Newcastle City Council originally wanted to see if a new loft clearance service would encourage greater uptake of their Warm Zone loft insulation offer. However, research with the target audience found that most people were more motivated by the simple idea of having cosy, warm homes. Strangely, this basic benefit is often overlooked by traditional energy-saving campaigns.

Warm and cosy
In March 2011, The NSMC and the council began a pilot project to see if a social marketing approach – a planned process that applies techniques from commercial marketing to social challenges – could be used to increase the uptake of loft insulation by the ‘able to pay’ market in Newcastle through their existing Warm Zone scheme. It was developed as part of a social marketing training programme developed by The NSMC for the North East Improvement and Efficiency Partnership.

Surprisingly, prior to the pilot, very little market research had been undertaken to determine how benefits such as ‘comfort’ and ‘warmth’ can be used to increase energy efficiency measures in the United Kingdom. In fact, the project appears to be one of only a few cases where a detailed understanding of key barriers and benefits associated with a specific energy-saving behaviour has been used in service development.

At its heart, a social marketing approach to a behavioural challenge relies on engaging with and listening to the people whose behaviour is in question. Rather than trying to lead them into carrying out the desired behaviour – in this case, insulating their lofts – it encourages planners to be led by their needs. By revealing the things that both prevent people from and make them more likely to do something, new ‘offers’ can be developed that systematically overcome and address these benefits and barriers.

Low income homes
Since 2004, Newcastle’s Warm Zone offer focused on communicating the energy saving benefits of insulation for people on low incomes. It included free or discounted cavity wall and loft insulation to all residents who qualified, and a very popular ‘benefits health check’ to determine if families were eligible for any additional benefits. By March 2011 the programme had achieved some great successes, including installing 49,407 insulation measures in around 40,000 homes and saving an estimated £5.1 million in annual residents’ annual fuel bills.

Warm Zone still provides free insulation for private homes where residents meet one of the following criteria: are over 60; have a child under six; are in fuel poverty; claim certain benefits; live in an area where ward funds have been allocated. People with cold or damp-related health conditions can also get a discount. By March 2011, many qualifying households had received these measures.

A saturated market?
The main marketing offer from Warm Zone continues to focus on potential household energy savings. However, Warm Zone noted a considerable drop-off in householder uptake. It was felt that the market was saturated, with only resistant households remaining. Many of these were in the ‘able to pay’ market, having to pay up to £149 for insulation.

The pilot has helped to establish that Warm Zone could in fact encourage a further 10,000 ‘able to pay owner occupier’ households to install loft insulation – provided a more attractive market ‘offer’ could be provided; one that builds on the prospect of increased cosiness and warmth, as well as the financial benefits.

Get snug
During the pilot, three leaflet designs were distributed in three city areas. This was followed by brief door-to-door interviews with residents. One leaflet focused on removing the hassle from having loft insulation installed (the ‘Hassle Free’ leaflet). Another focused on the benefits and service flexibility (the ‘Get Snug’ leaflet). The other leaflet showed the current Warm Zone offer and messaging (described as the ‘Control ‘leaflet).

It was found that while recall of the marketing campaign was high across the entire sample, the area receiving the Get Snug leaflet showed the highest recall (73%). The aspects which stood out to respondents were:

  • The offer of free insulation and other financial advantages, such as lower heating bills
  • The imagery used on the new leaflets (particularly the Get Snug leaflet)
  • The overall visual appeal and messages of the newly designed leaflets

The research suggests that a flexible offer is important to make loft insulation attractive to the remaining ‘hard to reach’ groups. For example, householders may be interested in accessing the loft clearance service offer after they have been attracted by the primary benefit of creating a cosier home.

For more information on the pilot and The NSMC’s approach to behaviour change please contact

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Green Alliance is a charity and independent think tank focused on ambitious leadership and increased political support for environmental solutions in the UK. This blog provides space for commentary and analysis around environmental politics and policy issues as they affect the UK. The views of external contributors do not necessarily represent those of Green Alliance.