The Climate Change Act called for an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, from 1990 levels, by 2050. Low carbon retrofit of the UK’s existing building stock will play a key role in meeting this technically and logistically ambitious target. We may need to reduce emission levels even further to compensate for other industry sectors.
The major challenge the government and our industry is now facing is to develop and implement a coherent approach in delivering a national retrofitting programme and to build a funding model to finance it. PRP Architects has undertaken a number of retrofit projects across the UK our approach is always to develop solutions which can be replicated and economically viable to roll out on a mass scale.
If we are to proceed confidently with mass retrofitting, we need to be sure the measures we install are future-proofed and that they will meet new legislation. A “retrofit roadmap” needs to be developed along similar lines as that published for new-build homes in relation to zero carbon legislation. The roadmap must set achievable targets for delivery and performance.
Building legislation also needs to be consistent with the road map before being adopted nationwide by local authorities so that we do not get differing interpretations of policy, as currently occurs with the “permitted development rights” relating to houses. Central government needs to develop this roadmap, which should be published this year if we are to meet the programme targets.
The retrofit programme could be seen as an opportunity to upgrade many of the nation’s streets and estates through improving the aesthetic quality of external facades. An example of this is a project PRP recently completed for Cambridge City Council, where the exterior of a 1940s steel frame house was substantially improved following our low-carbon retrofit.
However we do not want to see the UK’s housing stock covered in a blanket of insulated render. Period homes, which many people like for their historic character, will need carefully considered retrofit solutions to preserve the existing architectural aesthetic.
Another consideration is the skills gap, as the programme will require skilled designers who understand how to minimise heat loss through a facade while ensuring adequate ventilation. Currently the industry simply does not have the number of skilled professionals and onsite operatives to deliver the required volume of retrofits. The first step should be adequate training to equip the current and prospective workforce with the necessary skills.
Our involvement in the Energy Technology’s Institute’s two year thermal efficiency study, an implementation strategy to retrofit of all UK homes, will enable us to use our experience to influence an efficient and workable plan.
Andrew Mellor, PRP Architects environmental director