Subscriber OnlyResidential

How to boost your home’s Ber energy rating for free

With eligibility for energy upgrades expanding, you or a loved one could be entitled to a free retrofit

Retrofitting your house makes sense. A warmer home, lower energy bills, a more valuable property – what’s not to like? Well, the price of upgrades, for one thing. Costing up to €40,000, even with grants, a retrofit is out of reach for many. But what if you could get it for free?

A Government scheme enables thousands of homeowners to do just that, but many who are entitled to avail of it don’t seem to know about it.

Successful applicants for the Fully Funded Energy Upgrade scheme from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) benefit from upgrades worth tens of thousands of euro. With eligibility for the fuel allowance expanded by 80,000 households since January, it’s worth checking if you or a loved one now qualifies. Recipients of other means-tested and non-means-tested social welfare payments are also eligible for the free works.

Some 946 households benefited from the energy upgrade scheme, previously called the Warmer Homes scheme, in the first quarter of this year, says the Department of the Environment and Climate. The scheme applies to recipients of certain welfare payments who live in their own home, which had been built and occupied before 2006 (it doesn’t have to have been occupied by you since then, however).


Older people who live in their own home and are in receipt of the fuel allowance are a typical beneficiary of the scheme

You can apply for the scheme on the SEAI’s website. If you qualify, an SEAI surveyor will visit your home and recommend upgrades based on its age, size and your existing heating system.

Works such as installing attic insulation, cavity wall insulation, external wall insulation and internal wall insulation are funded. So are lagging jackets, draught-proofing and even new light bulbs. New heating systems and windows are occasionally recommended.

Older people who live in their own home and are in receipt of the fuel allowance are a typical beneficiary of the scheme, says Conor Walsh, owner of Econ, an SEAI-approved contractor working in the southeast.

“I’d say the average upgrade under the scheme is worth about €25,000 to €32,000 per house,” says Walsh. “Some householders may be entitled to €5,000 worth and others might get up to €40,000,” he says.

The homes he works on range from those built in the 1990s and have cavity walls to much older homes. “I would generally say homes are being upgraded from a Ber of E to a B3 or a B2 under the scheme,” says Walsh.

With the expansion of the eligibility for the fuel allowance, it’s worth checking if you or a loved one meet the new, more relaxed criteria. If you do, you could also be eligible for a free retrofit.

Under the new criteria, a single person over 70 can have an income of €500 per week and a couple can have an income of €1,000 per week and qualify for the fuel allowance. People over 70 will no longer need to be in receipt of a qualifying social welfare payment to be eligible for fuel allowance.

The limit for the amount of savings a person can have has also been increased under the expansion, with the first €50,000 in savings and investments now being disregarded in the means test.

If you are under 70 and receive certain social welfare payments, you can qualify too. The new weekly allowable amount above the applicable State pension rate increased from €120 to €200.

Positive word of mouth creates clusters of those in the know about the scheme, says Walsh. “Say Mary in Bunclody gets it done, then all of sudden you are going to get a few houses in the area. It’s only when a neighbour picks up on it, you see they start telling others about it.”

What about householders who may not want others to know they are in receipt of a welfare payment? No one will know whether the works are paid for privately or through the Government scheme, unless the householder decides to tell them, says Walsh. “There shouldn’t be anything to be ashamed of here. At the end of the day, you have paid your taxes all your life and now you are retired and in receipt of fuel allowance. If you are entitled to it, you should go for it,” says Walsh.

You can apply for the fuel allowance at and if you are accepted, you can then apply for the SEAI’s Fully Funded Home Energy Upgrade right away.

Without the scheme, Connolly says, there is ‘no chance’ she could have afforded a retrofit: ‘I would say, go for it, definitely. I have told so many people about it.’

Mary Connolly, from Co Meath, availed of the scheme in February. She had seen an ad for it in the newspaper, but wasn’t sure if she met the criteria. “I thought I’ll apply and I’ll see.”

Connolly lives with her daughter who has additional needs, and as a recipient of the carers allowance living in a house built before 2006, she qualified for the scheme.

She has lived in her detached bungalow for 18 years. “When we moved in, there was no insulation in the house at all and it was absolutely freezing, it was really bad,” she recalls. She had added a small layer of insulation to the attic which improved things but the house was by no means cosy.

The free retrofit works on her house, completed by SEAI-registered installer Hometherm, included a full wrap of the exterior with a thick layer of aeroboard-like insulation. This was then rendered with a further insulating membrane and painted. The attic was laid with a thick layer of insulation. Had she not installed a condensing boiler herself two years before, this would have been provided under the scheme too, she says.

From the time of application, the works were completed in nine months. The retrofit itself took two weeks. “It wasn’t disruptive,” Connolly says, and she didn’t have to move out. “They were as clean as anything. When they finished, a lady came and brushed around the whole place and washed the windows. They left it just perfect.”

The house is now cosier and more energy efficient. “You feel like you are in a little cocoon. It feels warmer and quieter, definitely,” says Connolly. Without the scheme, she says, there is “no chance” she could have afforded a retrofit: “I would say, go for it, definitely. I have told so many people about it.”


Recipients of the domiciliary carers allowance (DCA) are also eligible for a free energy upgrade. The DCA is a non-means-tested payment for those caring for a child under 16 who has additional needs. It’s not based on a particular type of disability, but rather the level of physical or mental impairment which results in the child needing “substantially more care and attention than another child of the same age,” according to the criteria.

One householder in receipt of the allowance had their house retrofitted having been on the waiting list for less than two years. Works included installing attic insulation, a mixture of internal and external wall insulation, room vents and free energy-efficient light bulbs.

Paying for the works themselves at a cost of €30,000 would have been out of reach as caring for their child means working reduced hours.

Their home’s Ber rating increased from a D2 to a C1. Installing heat controls themselves will bump the rating up to a B3, qualifying them to switch to a lower rate green mortgage.

Other households that can apply for the scheme include: those receiving the disability allowance for more than six months and who have a child aged under seven, individuals who are on jobseeker’s allowance for more than six months and have a child under seven and those who receive the working-family payment or the one-parent family allowance.

Waiting times

Applications for the Fully Funded Energy Upgrade scheme have increased fourfold in the first quarter of this year, according to SEAI figures. It says it is increasing contractor capacity to keep waiting times to an average of 21 months.

Since February 2022, the scheme has started prioritising the worst performing properties. That means those built before 1993 with a Ber or E, F or G, as these householders are most at risk of fuel poverty. If you have a D-rated home built in 1995, for example, and you applied to the scheme before the change, it won’t affect your place on the waiting list.

Despite this reprioritisation, those eligible should still apply and get on the waiting list sooner rather than later.

If your home was previously declined for insulation under the scheme due to having hollow, solid block or poured concrete walls, you may now be eligible for new wall insulation, says the SEAI. If you are eligible and have single-glazed windows, these will be replaced.

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about homes and property, lifestyle, and personal finance