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Insulation innovation: the robot that will insulate your home

Q-bot the insulation robot

•    Robot could be the future of under-floor insulation
•    Huge potential in fight against fuel poverty, says founder
•    Small companies pushing construction industry forward

Suspended timber floors in early-twentieth century properties and robots perhaps don't seem the most natural allies, but for Tom Lipinski, founder of Q-Bot, it's a perfect fit. 

His brainchild is a robot that trundles under floors packing a 3D scanner and insulating foam, designed to make one of energy efficiency's trickiest jobs easier. The idea sprang from a Retrofit for the Future, an Innovate UK-funded project. Lipinski explained:

“One of the biggest challenges was laying floor insulation in older homes. The status quo was to remove tenants, rip out carpets and underlay, pull up floorboards, then try and fit insulation between the joints – then really just hope it held in place somehow. Of course with people walking on the floorboards, within a few years half of it was no longer in place.

Q-Bot the insulating robot being inserted into the wall

Robotics meet an old problem

What followed was 18 months research, looking at current approaches and what was – and, more commonly, wasn't – working. Lipinski explained:

“We knew that moisture-resistant insulation had to be sprayed from beneath to completely encase the floor, but it's something so difficult for a person to do, as it's tough to get in the right places, and the chemicals in insulating foam are quite nasty during application. We kind of fell into robotics as a way of doing this. 

“Some people come out of university and get into robotics because it's 'cool tech' and then try to find a solution that their work fits to. This was the opposite approach: we knew what solution was needed – then it was the hard work in robotics that had to be done from scratch.”

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Taking the initiative 

It's claimed that Q-Bot can deliver heat loss reductions through suspended timber floors of up to 85 per cent, while reducing installation time to one to two days.

With such seemingly obvious benefits, why has the great floor insulation conundrum not been tackled before? Lipinski reckons it's a mix of negativity and technology. He explained:

“People have tended to say it wasn't possible to do it, so didn't even try. But people like Elon Musk are now showing us that if you think something is possible, you'll eventually make it so. Then, only in the last two or three years has the technology come on to allow the robotic solution to work. It's now possible to carry a 3D scanner on top of the robot with hardware powerful enough to do the job. 

“Electronics have moved on a lot, and it's generally not down to the big technology companies, but small start-ups. Although it's not exactly cheap to build a robot at around £50,000, compare that to five years ago and you'd be talking ten times that. It's a mix of vision and affordability that's brought us here.”

Q-Bot the robot spraying insulation

Improvements on paper and for people

The typical home in which the Q-Bot gets to work is an early twentieth century low-rise, three-bedroom housing association property, often occupied by a family in fuel poverty. 

Demand is high. The company currently has three robots capable of spraying insulation, and is working on six more. He added:

“Currently it's all about maintaining and growing the robot fleet. This is just the start – the scale needs to increase to make an impact right across the UK. We've got to move the construction sector forward, and insulation prices down. 

“This is one of the cheapest EPC upgrades you can make apart from loft insulation, which most housing association properties have already. Beyond being cool and funky, the role of robotics is to create a better-value, quality and durable way of doing something difficult.”

This is a great example of energy efficiency, innovation and technological advancement – but with or without robots, you can make a start on ensuring your home is more comfortable and cheaper to heat.

Find out about some of the energy efficient improvements you can make to your property.

Share your thoughts below, or tweet us at @energysvgtrust. Be sure to follow @QBot_UK on Twitter for updates.

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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Why no grants for Q bot underfloor heating ? My old (pre 1918) terraced house holds heat apart from living room and hallway floors which are icy cold even when the house temperature reads a balmy 21 C.These old London terraces have no foundations, just a void which sucks heat downwards and out.

Hi
I live in a ex council house which has a suspended floor, my lounge is cold all throughout the year , I was wondering if there are any grants for this ? My home is double brick with no gap so can't even have cavity insulation ! Please help!
Kind regards
Karen

Hello Karen,

We would recommend speaking with an advisor from the Energy Saving Advice Service (ESAS) on 0300 123 1234 to discuss what help may be available to you. (Calling hours are from Monday to Friday between 9am to 8pm. Calls cost no more than a national rate call.)

Alternatively, if you're based in Scotland, you can call Home Energy Scotland advisors on 0808 808 2282 or request a call back

We hope this is helpful and wish you the best of luck with your query.

EST Team

Interested in this form of insulation, question is how much roughly to have done and how much space does the robot need, ?
My bungalow built 1988 is suspended floor, a lot of air bricks and even though i have high tog underlay and carpet down my floor is freezing. And bathroom and kitchen have lino fitted and at times its like walking on ice.