The benefits of retrofitting houses

The benefits of retrofitting houses


The Built Environment


retrofitting, zero carbon, sustainability

Back in 2013 David Cameron pledged to make the UK “the most energy efficient country in Europe”. Progress has been made towards this pledge over the life of the previous Parliament.  However, during the life of this Parliament the bricks and mortar forming the foundations of an improvement in the housing sector have been dismantled. Instead there is a gaping hole where an infrastructure plan should be. Our existing housing stock accounts for over 40% of our total carbon emissions, yet there are no plans politically to address this issue. Annual carbon emissions of a typical UK home Annual Carbon Emissions Typcial UK Home Frequently cited as the ‘dirty man of Europe’ over 10 million homes in Britain are in such a poor state of repair that their occupants have to live under leaky roofs with damp walls and rotting windows. Carbon emissions from our domestic housing stock tops transport and industrial production for this undesirable top slot. Of these emissions; the lion share, (a whopping 85%) is generated as a by-product of space heating and water heating. A conservative estimate of the carbon emissions from a typical UK home is 5 tons per annum, whereas an equivalent deep retrofit contributes one ton of carbon. It is estimated by NEF (The National Energy Foundation) that for the government to meet its binding carbon budget of a 20% reduction by 2020, that plans must be put in place to facilitate 1 million deep retrofits each year by 2020.  Alistair Guthrie, global leader of sustainable buildings for engineering giant Arup, expressed anger at the UK government for ‘failing’ to create policies that encourage building owners to retrofit their properties with green technologies.  He was speaking at a roundtable discussion (May 22nd 2015), organised by The Prince of Wales Corporate Leaders Group (CLP) and Track 0 (an independent not-for-profit organisation serving as a hub to support all those working to get ‘Green House Gas’ emissions on track by mid-century). This meeting was designed to identify how a range of disparate energy efficiency and buildings initiatives could be brought together at the COP21 (The 21st Conference of Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) Paris Summit in December 2015, in a way that will better accelerate the development of the green buildings that are critical to the development of a net zero emission economy.  Alistair’s comments echo the concern in the building industry that the political will of independent nation states is waning on the subject of zero carbon housing. The French are so concerned that they are proposing to dedicate a whole day to the subject during the forthcoming COP21 international climate talks in Paris. This day would focus on galvanising global efforts to curb energy wastage from buildings, amid growing fears that the potential of smart building technologies is not being harnessed in the fight against climate change. Yves-Laurent Sapoval, director of sustainable development in the French Ministry of Housing, said “if the event goes ahead it would be the first time a wide slice of the building sector had gathered together to acknowledge their contribution to climate change and the challenges they face in reducing carbon emissions.” Alistair Guthrie, is quoted as saying, “If manufacturers know what they have to do, then it levels the playing field,….”.  “I don’t believe we have a problem with innovation and new technology.  Most of those are available.  I believe it is a collective willpower to see things heading that way and that is driven by government and regulation.”  He went on to say “…renovating existing buildings stock was by far the biggest challenge for the buildings sector in tackling climate change.