Where to begin with retrofitting?

As Rishi Sunak unveils a £50m social housing retrofit programme, Q-Bot’s chief commercial and operating officer, Martin Jervis, shares his insight into the challenges that lie ahead for the sector

The UK chancellor recently announced a £50m social housing retrofit programme, but a recent study including 40 top social housing providers showed not everyone is clear on where to start.

In partnership with Q-Bot, Elemental has created a panel of the UK’s leading retrofit experts to discuss the social housing retrofit picture, from its roadblocks to just how it fits so integrally into the UK’s net-zero ambitions.

How does social housing retrofit differ from other sectors?

With the exception of some cutting-edge individual projects, social housing tends to be at the forefront of retrofit. In part due to the volume of properties owned as well as the strong governance requirements, social housing was highly motivated to address the challenge of retrofitting properties at scale long before there was widespread awareness in the private owner occupier market.

Through schemes like the Social Housing Decarbonisation fund, the government is looking to encourage the sector to lead the way in working with construction sector and others to find scalable, efficient, and cost-effective retrofit delivery models.

How does social housing retrofit fit into our net zero ambitions?

Retrofit is fundamental to our net-zero ambitions. The UK’s 29 million homes contribute about 14% of our total emissions, and around 80% of the buildings around us will still be here in 2050.

By 2050, we expect to see the decarbonisation of the electricity grid reduce the emissions of homes by 15%, which means the remaining 85% of emissions have to come from reducing the demand for heat through retrofit. What this means in real terms is achieving a minimum SAP rating of 86 in all of our homes.

What are the barriers we need to be aware of moving forward?

Funding, regulation, and procurement all provide barriers to being able to move quickly enough at a significant scale to achieve the necessary improvements to meet future targets. That means properly engaging the supply chain with the sort of support and incentives to provide them with the confidence to invest in the resources, talent, and jobs the sector needs.

“Short-term funding streams, changes to policy, and failed schemes like the Green Deal have made it difficult for the sector to grow capacity and expertise”

We must move past ‘pilotisis’ and implement large programmes of work, not only to keep pace with targets but in order to generate the local, sustainable jobs needed to stimulate the labour market.

What are the quickest wins?

Low-regret, non-intrusive, single-retrofit measures such as Q-Bot’s Under floor insulation and Loft insulation top-ups (to 270mm) are quick, simple, and cost-effective. Both can form part of a staged ‘Whole House Retrofit’ approach or be installed individually while the full retrofit pathway is being designed in line with PAS 2035.

Where a budget only allows the best measure or the top two measures to be installed, that generally includes Q-Bot*. Where a larger retrofit budget (property) is available, that almost always includes Q-Bot*. Where organisations are able to identify a clear need, the creation of delivery partnerships allows for the removal of many of the aforementioned barriers and provides an opportunity to move more quickly.

*Assuming there is a suspended floor at the property

What would you like to see the government do to support retrofit?

Provide certainty. For many years focus on delivering energy efficiency measures has been inconsistent. Short-term funding streams, changes to policy, and failed schemes like the Green Deal have made it difficult for the sector to grow capacity and expertise.

We are facing a skills shortage, and while we have all the technologies and solutions we need to meet the net-zero challenge, without sustained, targeted support it will be hard for the supply chain to scale up at the pace needed.

The panellists were:

George Simms, senior project manager, Energy Catapult
Andrew Parkin, chain, Property Energy Professionals Association
Phil Mason, head of Regulatory Engagement, Trustmark
Martin Jervis, chief commercial and operating Officer, Q-Bot
Andy Mace, director at Arup

Housing Digital Stakeholder Q-Bot is a ‘Queen’s Award for Innovation’ winning developer of intelligent systems to inspect, monitor and maintain the health of buildings using Robotics and AI.

Read next: Busting myths around bespoke housing software

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