UK's hous­ing stock 'needs mas­sive retro­fit to meet cli­mate tar­gets'

The Guardian Australia - - Environment - Fiona Har­vey En­vi­ron­ment cor­re­spon­dent

Hun­dreds of mil­lions of pounds must be spent on the UK’s draughty hous­ing stock to meet the gov­ern­ment’s cli­mate change tar­gets, with progress so far too slow to make the dif­fer­ence needed.

Re­pair­ing ex­ist­ing homes to a high stan­dard, with in­su­la­tion and re­new­able en­ergy tech­nol­ogy, would cut con­sumer bills and bring health im­prove­ments, a new re­port shows.

Do­mes­tic hous­ing ac­counts for about a fifth of the UK’s green­house gas emis­sions, mostly from heat­ing and hot wa­ter. But at­tempts to bring these down have largely failed, prompt­ing re­newed calls from ex­perts for a na­tional pro­gramme of home im­prove­ment that would make dwellings low-car­bon for the next 30 years.

New re­search by the In­sti­tu­tion of En­gi­neer­ing and Tech­nol­ogy and Not­ting­ham Trent Uni­ver­sity has found that meet­ing gov­ern­ment tar­gets of 80% cuts in green­house gas emis­sions by mid-cen­tury would re­quire sweep­ing pol­icy change.

“A na­tional pro­gramme for a one­off deep retro­fit [of all res­i­den­tial prop­erty] is needed,” said Mar­jan Sar­shar, pro­fes­sor of sus­tain­abil­ity and the built en­vi­ron­ment at Not­ting­ham Trent Uni­ver­sity. “Costs will come down as we build up the sup­ply chain ca­pac­ity.”

The re­port’s au­thors sug­gest start­ing with so­cial hous­ing, which makes up about 4.5m homes. By en­gag­ing a whole lo­cal­ity at a time, the costs can be brought down and retro­fit schemes car­ried out more ef­fi­ciently.

It can cost about £17,000 to retro­fit a stan­dard house. The ben­e­fits go be­yond emis­sions sav­ings, also in­clud­ing lower en­ergy bills, warmer homes and a much-de­creased bur­den on the NHS, which cur­rently spends about £1.4bn a year treat­ing con­di­tions that arise from poor hous­ing.

Costs for on­go­ing main­te­nance, amount­ing to £5.2bn a year for so­cial hous­ing alone, would also be dras­ti­cally cut or elim­i­nated by a one-off “deep retro­fit” for most res­i­den­tial build­ings. So­cial hous­ing ten­ants spend £4.2bn a year on en­ergy, a big chunk of most house­hold bud­gets, which would also be much re­duced if their homes were in­su­lated and fit­ted with re­new­ables such as so­lar pan­els.

In­su­la­tion for roofs and walls, new win­dows and doors, small-scale re­new­able en­ergy such as so­lar pan­els or district heat­ing sys­tems, are the ba­sic tech­niques. But in­stead of de­ploy­ing them piece­meal, as in the past, the gov­ern­ment should start a sys­tem of “deep retrofits”, by which each dwelling would re­ceive a one-off re­fur­bish­ment cov­er­ing all the needed im­prove­ments and make the homes fit for the next 30 years at least, the re­port found.

The tech­nol­ogy, ma­te­ri­als and skills needed for these deep retrofits are all avail­able and well un­der­stood, but the UK’s fail­ure to put them into prac­tice has pre­vented the de­vel­op­ment of a large in­dus­try car­ry­ing out such work. Suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ment at­tempts to solve the prob­lem have run into prob­lems and been aban­doned. The Green Deal, for in­stance, which sup­plied loans and grants to peo­ple to have in­su­la­tion in­stalled, was scrapped af­ter only a few years and has not been re­placed.

Pub­lic per­cep­tion of the value of in­su­la­tion took a blow when the Gren­fell fire, in which 72 peo­ple died, ex­posed the risks from flammable cladding on tower blocks. How­ever, high­qual­ity cladding and other retro­fit tech­nolo­gies should be a pri­or­ity, and a pub­lic in­for­ma­tion cam­paign to en­gage house­hold­ers could al­lay peo­ple’s con­cerns, the ex­perts said.

“We need to re­as­sure peo­ple that there are safe so­lu­tions,” said Richard Miller, di­rec­tor of Miller-Klein As­so­ciates and a lead au­thor of the re­port. “There is a job to be done.”

Retrofitting a typ­i­cal house can take sev­eral weeks, but the res­i­dents can re­main liv­ing there through­out. Many peo­ple are re­luc­tant to take on the in­con­ve­nience and cost of such build­ing work but the gov­ern­ment could of­fer in­cen­tives and sub­si­dies, which along with the sav­ings on en­ergy bills could make the propo­si­tion more at­trac­tive.

The re­port’s au­thors also called for cities to get in­volved by set­ting up pro­grammes to retro­fit prop­er­ties street by street.

The bar­ri­ers to retrofitting at present were found to be a lack of cus­tomer de­mand, be­cause the en­ergy sav­ings were not enough to tempt peo­ple to do the work; lack of gov­ern­ment pol­icy; high costs be­cause of the lack of de­mand; and the dif­fi­culty for house­holds of gain­ing the ini­tial fi­nance needed to em­bark on the work.

Houses built now, even if they are con­structed to a high stan­dard, will make up only a fifth of the hous­ing stock by 2050, the ex­perts found, so retrofitting ex­ist­ing build­ings must be the pri­or­ity.

Pho­to­graph: En­ergiesprong In­ter­na­tional/IET

Low-car­bon ‘En­ergiesprong’ homes in Not­ting­ham.

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