The UK is facing a huge retrofit challenge. Our draughty homes are some of the least energy efficient in Europe, and millions need to be upgraded to reach basic energy efficiency standards. This could be big source of new green jobs and a way to ‘build back better’ after Covid 19. Government plans for a new Green Homes Grants scheme are due to be announced soon. But is the industry ready to respond? And who can guide homeowners through the maze of technical decisions needed to come up with the right retrofit package? They’ll also need to be careful to avoid cowboy contractors – who must be rubbing their hands at the prospects of cashing in on the new grant scheme? In this blog, Sören Nellegaard from RetrofitWorks talks about the Warmer Sussex scheme which is tailor made to provide that help.
In June this year, the Committee on Climate Change published their latest progress report which showed that in 2019 our buildings accounted for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions. The UK has committed itself by law to reduce these emissions to Net Zero by 2050, which basically means that we have to reduce our emissions to an extend where we can compensate for the rest by capturing emissions for example by planting trees. For our buildings, this means that we have to retrofit 27 million homes – so we need to get started!
Hang on, what does retrofit actually mean?
When speaking of buildings, the word retrofit is used to describe various low carbon refurbishment measures. In general, these measures either reduce the amount of energy used (such as gas or electricity) to have a comfortable home, or it changes the type of energy you use, such as switching from a fossil fuel heating system to a heat pump. The energy reducing measures are numerous and the most common types are double or triple glazed windows as well as insulation such as internal, cavity, or external wall insulation. Retrofit can also mean Solar PV, water saving measures, and other things that make your home run in a smarter and less polluting way.
Okay, so why are we not getting started?
Retrofitting can be a complex process and because homes vary it is nearly impossible to make rules that can be applied to all buildings. As a homeowner, you have probably spend quite some time searching the internet for information on the best thing to do for your home without getting to the bottom of it. Another challenge is to find the right contractors who can make the installations. You might have heard stories about contractors cutting corners resulting in poor quality retrofit that caused damp or other damages. As a normal homeowner, you are probably unable to check the installation quality during and after completion. So when you think about it, it would be quite nice if there was a trustworthy third-party organisation who could provide you with impartial advice, access to local quality vetted contractors, and in general just do a good job. That would really make it easier to figure out how to get started with retrofitting your home.
Wouldn’t it be great if we had a trustworthy organisation who could do this?
Yes! And the good news is that in Sussex we now have that. Warmer Sussex is a local one-stop-shop operated by the RetrofitWorks cooperative and it brings together an eco-system designed to deliver retrofitting to homeowners using local quality vetted contractors. We call it a one-stop-shop for homeowners because we are making it as easy as possible for homeowners to get good advice, make a plan for their home, and find contractors.
What can I do to get started?
Get Good Advice. While you may be familiar with improvements such as cavity wall insulation or triple glazing, some of the new technology is likely to be unfamiliar to you. You need to understand what is most suitable for your home today and tomorrow. For example, how much energy do you use today? Are you planning to grow your family? Are your children moving out? Are you thinking about converting that loft into a bedroom – how will you keep this extra space warm?
Make A Plan. Unless you are planning a big home renovation project, you are probably not going to do everything all at once. So, it is important to think about what you do, when you do it, and the costs and benefits of each element. For example, if you are fitting a new kitchen, is it worth insulating the floor or walls while this work is being done? Will that boiler need to be changed soon – do you need to fit it into the design, or can you plan for when it is replaced in 5 years? All this will save time, disruption, and money in the future if planned well now.
The first steps towards a Net Zero home with Warmer Sussex
The Warmer Sussex Whole House Plan will provide you with the advice and strategy you need to start making your home Net Zero. We visit your home to assess how it performs today by looking at your running costs (fuel bills), energy use (kWh), and your environmental impact (kgCO2 emissions). We then apply our algorithms to your data to produce recommendations that help you identify the actions you can take.
We will provide you with the indicative costs of these improvements and the effect they will have on energy efficiency and the environmental impact of your home. The Whole House Plan then provides guidance on how to phase these improvements, based on the information you have provided on your plans for your home.
Each Whole House Plan is unique to your home. There is no nationally accepted target for home energy retrofit, and Building Regulations only set the minimum standards for energy efficiency. Therefore, our Whole House Plan will present you with a range of feasible measures that will enable you to get as close as possible to an EPC A rated property with zero energy bills and zero CO2 emissions. The examples we show, gives you an idea of the information a Whole House Plan can give you, but what you can do and the savings you can make will vary. We can even tell you how many trees you should plant to tackle the last few stubborn CO2 emissions!
Putting your Whole House Plan into action
Once you have your plan in place, finding the right people with the right skills that you trust to do the work in your home can be a challenge. Warmer Sussex can remove this hassle from your shoulders by using our network of trusted contractors to generate quotes for the works you want to do. We can provide detailed specifications for the work that needs to be done, and oversee this work to ensure it is completed to meet the required standard, giving you the all-clear to pay the contractor once signed off by us.
So how much does it cost?
RetrofitWorks charge a standard up front fee for their initial survey. Homeowners can choose an initial remote survey involving a phone interview (costing £75). Or they can go straight to a full survey involving a site visit to produce a customised Whole House Plan (for £200). If the homeowner goes ahead and commissions work through the scheme, RetrofitWorks recoups their cost by adding a project fee to the contractors’ costs to cover oversight of works, technical supervision, quality checks, site visits, dealing with complaints, etc. For most projects this is 10% of the project value.
What can community groups do to promote retrofit?
If any SECA member groups are wondering how they could help kick start the retrofit revolution, getting in touch with RetrofitWorks would be a great place to begin. The Warmer Sussex Scheme is ready to roll out, and RetrofitWorks would be keen to open up discussions with groups elsewhere in the South East with plans along these lines.
A range of partnership approaches are possible. Light touch collaboration might involve groups helping publicise the Warmer Sussex scheme in their community. A more engaged partnership could involve groups become members of the RetrofitWorks cooperative, either as Associate or Advocate Members.
Joining as an Associate Member means that in return for acting as an ambassador for RetrofitWorks local green groups will be kept up to date on our activities, get access to our network of retrofit experts, as well as support to spread the word that Warmer Sussex is working. Groups who wants a larger involvement can become Advocate Members, which also gives you a shareholding in the cooperative and allows you to influence how we operate. They also benefit from a small ‘finders fee’ for any retrofit projects they help to facilitate, which could provide a helpful revenue stream to cover the group’s work.
But the best way to start might be to get your own home retrofitted, so you can tell your community about it and inspire the people around you by action!
To get in touch, email Sören at: firstname.lastname@example.org