The Government’s flagship Green Deal policy has made 'retrofit’ the latest green building buzzword, but many challenges and pitfalls lie ahead. Louise Bateman reports on some of the initiatives aiming to meet the challenge.
A city the size of Cambridge each and every week; that is the scale of the retrofit
programme that needs to be undertaken over the next 20 years to get the UK’s existing housing stock
operating more efficiently. It’s an immense challenge that Government and industry are trying to tackle with increasing urgency.
The UK has some of the oldest – and 'leakiest’ – housing stock in the world, most of which will still be standing in 2050, the year the Government has set itself to cut UK carbon emissions by 80 per cent. Innovations in technologies and materials are presenting the opportunity for built environment professionals to push the envelope of what can be created without compromising the environment, but with 8.5 million of the 26 million homes in Britain over 60 years old, there’s a need to find solutions that can be deployed on an industrial scale. The Government has made 'retrofitting’ existing homes one of its key priorities. It plans to insulate 3.5 million homes over a period of two years from autumn 2012, under its flagship Green Deal policy.
The latest initiative in the drive to retrofit our existing housing stock is the 'Energy House’ at the University of Salford. Officially launched last week by Energy Minister Greg Barker, this typical pre-1920s terraced house has been specially constructed under laboratory conditions, fitted with fully functioning water, gas and electricity supplies. Over the next two years academics will test the house for heat, light, humidity and even wind, to come up with detailed data that will support the property sector and homeowners when retrofitting old houses to make them energy efficient.
Will Swan, senior research fellow at the School of Built Environment at the University of Salford, says, as well as providing information about the performance of the house and the technologies, materials and appliances used within it, the Energy House will provide valuable insight into human behaviour and energy use. "Interior design, layouts, colour, lighting, how you heat your rooms – these all have an impact on energy use. The evidence is emerging and there is still a lot of learning to be done," he says.
While up in Manchester, the Energy House is providing insight into energy use and human behaviour, 150 miles south in Watford, 'The Victorian House’ is transforming a disused stable block, with an Energy Performance Certificate rating of F, into a row of terraced dwellings that are B-rated. The initiative is being run by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) and was considered of enough importance to show Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang on his UK visit in January.
"Innovation is going to drive [the retrofit programme] forward," says John O’Brien, principal consultant at BRE.
The exterior of the Victorian House has already been renovated and the first two units have been retrofitted. Innovation is at the centre of the project, and some of the latest technologies and materials have been fitted in the property. These range from a super-thin 'breathable’ insulation material and by-product of NASA to reconditioned timber sash windows fitted with very thin evacuated double-glazing by Pilkington Glass.
BRE is also leading on a £3 million, two-year research that aims to come up with a supply chain solution that can industrialise the processes of design, supply and implementation of this mass-scale retrofit programme. Backed by the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI), the initiative also brings together energy company EDF, the Peabody housing association, architects PRP, consultancy Total Flow, construction company Wates and University College London.
"This project is about a lot of things," says Andrew Mellor director (environmental) at PRP. "Can the supply chain deliver? Do new products need to be developed? Do we need warranties for those products? How do we address public acceptance? Who is going to fund this? How do we establish which homes are going to be prioritised and in which regions?"
PRP is one of the firms involved in Retrofit For the Future, a £10 million competition launched in 2009 by the Government to find new 'green’ technology solutions to dramatically improve the energy efficiency of UK homes.
In one Retrofit For the Future property, a post war home in Cambridge, PRP has been testing out everything from an oversized rainwater harvesting system to adapt the property to more extreme weather conditions right down to the paint on the internal walls aimed at addressing the more air tight environment of the property.
If the UK’s retrofit programme is to work, its not just products, materials and supply chains that are going to need to be investigated. Both residential property owners and those small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that will be carrying out much of the retrofit work, need to kept up to speed.
In London, Retrofit for the Future is behind a £10 million programme supporting more than 1000 SMEs working in capital’s built environment, including architects, surveying and engineering practices, small builders, plumbers and electricians. Called FLASH, the programme is being led by London charity the Institute for Sustainability and will provide latest information on sustainable retrofit and new build for residential, municipal and commercial buildings from professional bodies, including The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), RICS and Constructing Excellence. Businesses will also have the opportunity to work with leading academic institutions to create innovative solutions to key sustainability problems, as well as receive advice on how to green their own operations.
In another initiative, RICS has just received European funding to launch Trainrebuild, a two-year project that will advise residential property owners across Europe on how to improve the energy efficiency of their buildings. Commenting on the project, Jerry Percy, a RICS spokesperson, said: "We will be developing a package including training materials and toolkits detailing the reasons for more energy efficient buildings, the various techniques for cost-effectively retrofitting and improving property, occupier behaviour, and financing mechanisms to reduce the upfront cost of upgrading."
As the UK embarks on the biggest green makeover ever of its leaky housing stock, there is no shortage of public and private sector initiatives aiming to address the challenge. But whether it will all add up to enough remains to be seen.
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