The UK has the oldest housing stock in Europe, which contributes 20% of the country’s total carbon emissions.
In September I was pleased to speak at the APS conference about a strategy to make the UK’s homes fit for net zero. The plan, which is named the National Retrofit Strategy (NRS), sets out long-term solutions to help make our existing homes greener and more energy efficient. It is backed by the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) and 50 other organisations.
You may ask, what exactly is retrofit? The answer is simple: it’s the process of making changes to existing buildings to lower energy consumption. The issue has become much more visible over the last few weeks and months, especially with COP26, the party conferences and the recent release of the government’s much anticipated Heat and Buildings Strategy. Why all this visibility? Because the UK desperately needs to fix its 28 million leaky and draught-prone homes, struggling to maintain heat in winter and repel it in summer.
“Disappointingly, the long-awaited Heat and Buildings Strategy did not, as I see it, go far enough.”
We have a wonderfully diverse housing stock in the UK, made up of different local styles and ages, but this has its downsides – we have the oldest building stock in Europe and consequently the least friendly to the environment. We may look to cars and factories as the biggest polluters, but we must add our homes to this list – they contribute 20% of the UK’s total carbon emissions. More worryingly, methods to ‘green’ our homes have been on the decline. There has been a 95% drop in energy efficiency improvements since 2012.
A long-term, comprehensive plan, like the National Retrofit Strategy, is required to correct market failure and give confidence to industry, to consumers and to private investors who, alongside government, will need to invest to make retrofit happen.
If the market is there, the confidence and investment will come – many businesses and consumers will quite rightly not jump unless they have a secure route to retrofit. Start-stop schemes like the Green Homes Grant have unfortunately not done much to help alleviate the nerves of businesses or consumers when it comes to energy improvement initiatives.
Disappointingly, the long-awaited Heat and Buildings Strategy did not, as I see it, go far enough. There was no mention of the National Retrofit Strategy and detail on how the fabric of our homes was going to be improved to make it more energy efficient fell short. I applaud the ambition to fund new technology such as heat pumps and hydrogen boilers, but they are just one part of the puzzle. Homes need to be made efficient first, by focusing on the fabric of the building, then look to fit heating technology, such as heat pumps.
We await what comes from COP26, but unless a comprehensive retrofit plan, like the National Retrofit Strategy is implemented I can’t see that the UK will meet its legally binding carbon emissions targets by 2050.
Brian Berry is the chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders.