Mel Hargreaves, Asset Manager at Cobalt Housing, explains why new technologies and social housing investment will prove vital if the UK is to both overcome growing challenges and better the lives of its residents…
A ‘greener home’ can improve our health and finances, boost the economy and job market, and help tackle climate change.
The most recent ‘Energy Performance of Buildings’ report – from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), the energy efficiency ratings (EER), and the environmental impact rating (EIR) for existing and new domestic properties – shows a vast disparity between the performance of new-build and existing homes.
Cobalt manages around 6,000 properties, many of which were built during the 1950s-60s, a time when proportions for family living were often at the forefront of design and environmental performance wasn’t so well considered.
We are not alone. Across the UK, millions of homes categorised as ‘social housing’ by the ONS have a date of build pre-1970, with the number of ‘affordable homes’ built and owned by local authorities and housing associations falling since the end of the sixties.
Recently though, housing associations have turned their focus to retrofitting. Structurally, the homes are sound, but each one needs analysis to understand where they need to be upgraded to bring them up to ‘new-build’ standard.
Cobalt Housing: What we’re doing
At Cobalt, we are reviewing a new software system that will use the data we hold on our properties such as EPC and stock condition data to provide us with a more detailed overall picture for our properties, helping us to target retrofit projects across the stock.
We are also conducting 3D scans and thermal surveys on some of our homes. Information from these surveys will provide us with a detailed plan of the properties, mapping any hot or cold spots, and will help us understand the buildings’ energy efficiency performance.
We will use this information to determine if our properties require additional energy efficiency measures, in addition to works that have already been completed.
“Residential housing is responsible for 22% of all UK emissions – 10% of which comes from social housing stock”
We are working closely with Liverpool John Moores University as part of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP), the aim of which is to identify innovative technologies that could improve the energy efficiency of our homes.
For example, a robot that can spray underfloor insulation in properties with suspended floors, eliminating any potential disruption and improving thermal efficiency (compared to standard underfloor insulation).
What is clear is that with the government’s target of achieving net zero-carbon emissions by 2050, the vast number of homes requiring an ‘environmental reboot’ through retrofit will play a fundamental part in the success, or failure, of achieving this goal.
This rings espeically true when you consider that residential housing is responsible for 22% of all UK emissions – 10% of which comes from social housing stock.
Improving the energy efficiency of our homes is a key priority for Cobalt, not only to support environmental targets, but to help to reduce utility bills and improve the overall health of tenants and residents.
Recent examples of eco-developments within the social housing sector have shown that carbon-neutral homes not only minimise utility bills, but also improve tenants’ wellbeing and mental health.
The technology available for retrofitting existing properties is developing daily, and we are investigating innovative solutions from around the world that can be installed in a matter of weeks with minimal disruption.
We have seen peers experimenting with new thermally efficient wall ‘wrappers’, too, created with prefabricated panels manufactured offsite; Photo-voltaic (’PV’) heaters built into a thermally-insulated roof that also generate electricity; air-source or ground-source heating; and even the removal of gas to create an electricity-only property.
Worth the cost
But this technology comes at a price. A recent report by Raven Housing Trust indicated that the cost of retrofitting their existing stock would cost approximately £20,000 per property – based on their already not-inefficient homes.
However, the payback from investment in retrofitting existing homes would not only help to achieve government carbon targets and reduce utility bills for tenants, but also provide a much-needed boost for the UK’s construction industry – which could prove fundamental post-COVID.
“The payback from investment in retrofitting existing homes would not only help achieve government carbon targets and reduce utility bills, but also provide a boost for the construction industry”
It is good to see the recent announcement from the government on a new funding programme for social rent, which puts social and affordable rent on an equal footing with affordable homeownership, supporting the build of homes for those on the lowest incomes such as key workers.
Following the COVID pandemic, the Green Homes Grant funding has also been brought forward to help private owners, private landlords, and social housing landlords improve the energy efficiency of properties.
This isn’t a change that will happen overnight, but the demand for social housing is at a record high (charity Shelter estimates we need to deliver 3.1m more social homes over the next 20 years), the turnover of Cobalt homes is at an all-time low, and we need to ensure new and existing homes are as efficient as possible.
There is a real opportunity for change here, one that could benefit tenants, the economy, and the environment.
We’re excited to play our part in improving people’s lives both now and in the future.
Main image: Melanie-Hargreaves, Asset Manager, Cobalt Housing
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