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Climate emergency #4: have you thought about Retrofitting?

Maxim Laithwaite, David Hutton and Nathan Bradberry analyse how local authorities and registered providers can use retrofitting to help deliver on climate emergencies.

The UK now has a legally binding target of producing zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. But without decarbonisation of the nation’s housing stock (that accounts for around 30% of energy consumption) this is unlikely to happen.

As councils consider how best to deliver on declared climate emergencies, reducing emissions is a key priority. Whilst there is much focus on how new build housing can be delivered such that it is net zero carbon. However, given that 80% of the homes we will be living in in 2050 are already built and that 64% of homes currently have an EPC rating of band D or below, there are other challenges. These figures equate to 14 million homes, each requiring twice as much energy as an A rated property. 

Councils and Registered Providers (‘RPs’), have an opportunity to influence and affect these issues.

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For local authorities and RPs who want to fulfil their environmental promises, a top priority must be tackling energy demand and carbon emissions in domestic properties. There are considerable co-benefits to an approach that seeks to retrofit.  Preventing vulnerable households from living in dangerously cold or damp homes will help tackle fuel poverty, rising energy bills and reduce pressures on health services.

Policy initiatives to kick-start a programme of extensive upgrades to social properties include ’retrofitting’ – a term that covers a wide variety of home energy improvements.

Repairing these properties to a high standard, with insulation, solar panels and the latest renewable energy technology, will cut consumer costs and bring other benefits, such as improved health and wellbeing.

Retrofitting – what are the options now?

At the top end of the scale, investments can involve:

  • A new thermally efficient wall ‘wrapper’ created with prefabricated panels manufactured offsite
  • Photo-voltaic (’PV’) heaters built into a thermally-insulated roof that also generate electricity
  • Air source or ground source heating
  • Removal of gas to create an electricity-only property

Several schemes are being watched carefully by the social housing sector.

In Nottinghamshire, 155 hard to heat homes are being upgraded with new highly-insulated outside walls and windows, a solar roof, battery storage, and PV heaters. Household energy demand is being greatly reduced, and what energy is needed can mostly be generated on site via smart use of renewable energy technologies.

In Bristol, the city council is aiming to install solar panels to ensure 10,000 council-owned homes meet existing planning policy to reduce carbon emissions by 20% through on-site renewable energy generation. 

Comprehensive retrofitting to 2050 standards can be costly. Local authorities are seeking firmer Government incentives such as subsidies, grants and other benefits. But by collaborating on projects, local authorities, RPs and agencies can reduce outlay – in the same way they do already on successful regeneration schemes.

Three points to think about

  • Do you know who to talk to? New technology and better construction systems now offer local authorities long term solutions to meet 2050 obligations by overhauling sometimes poor quality housing stock
  • Can you review existing contracts and anticipated procurements? Combining expected maintenance and refurbishment costs with energy savings over 20-30 years, provides an economic case for investing in deep retrofit to upgrade housing stock now.
  • Have you considered revising any economic cases? As volumes increase, and costs inevitably fall, larger retrofit programmes can act as a catalyst for wider urban renewal and economic growth: other catalysts could be the co-benefits of improved health and wellbeing and a reduction in fuel poverty for residents, as well as the regeneration of place, to name a few.

Maxim Laithwaite is a solicitor, David Hutton is a partner and Head of Local Government and Nathan Bradberry is a partner and Head of Infrastructure at Bevan Brittan. Maxim can be reached on 0370 194 8962 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., while David can be contacted on 0370 194 8927 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Nathan can be reached on 0370 194 1666 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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