Housing Retrofit: The Journey to net zero is a Shared Learning Curve

Ben Williams - Head of Retrofit
Ben Williams Head of Retrofit, Wates Living Space
Housing Retrofit: The Journey to Net Zero is a Shared Learning Curve
Home Insights Housing Retrofit: The Journey to net zero is a Shared Learning Curve

The wheels are very much in motion on social housing’s journey to decarbonisation and as pressure mounts for social landlords to accelerate, Ben Williams, Client Relationship Director, shares his insight on the lessons so far learnt on the Wates’ retrofit programmes and the challenges ahead for the sector.

The Journey to net zero is a Shared Learning Curve

This week marks Big Energy Saving Week* and with wintery temperatures and high energy prices hitting the UK, it is a perfect time to remind ourselves of one of the biggest drivers of housing retrofit – fuel poverty. Of course, the aim to reduce energy consumption in the country’s five million social housing properties is a fundamental part of our move towards net zero by 2050 but it is also a means to reduce costs and improve wellbeing for residents; this is rightly a big priority for social landlords.

We are over a year into Wates’ social housing retrofit journey having launched our partnership with PAS 2035 Compliance experts Energy Specifics in November 2020. This partnership was forged with the aim of providing a fully PAS 2035 compliant, one stop shop carbon-reduction retrofitting service to social landlords focusing on ‘whole house’ solutions, while also supporting our customers to access Government funding. We’ve made good progress so far, but we are continuously learning lessons and developing best practice.

The industry is still very much in the early days of housing retrofit but as we progress our programmes on the ground, we are learning more and more about the challenges we will come up against along the way and how we can work with social landlords to head these off to ensure we stay on programme.

Prioritising residents

All the retrofit programmes we have underway are reliant on effective engagement with residents. At Wates, occupied refurbishment is our day job and in that sense retrofit doesn’t differ from traditional repairs and maintenance. What we have found, however, is that residents need to understand the energy efficiency measures being installed and how they can benefit from them. We are undertaking retrofit work for 80 properties for Northampton Council under the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, which concentrates on modifications to building fabric with external wall insulation (EWI) and loft insulation, along with renewable heating such as air source heat pumps and photovoltaics. Our customer has been really proactive in communicating the work and new technologies with residents, which has been invaluable in creating trust and assurance. This has been such a valuable lesson that should be taken forward in every single retrofit programme we do.

Supply chain agility is key

We all know too well the challenges that our industry is facing in terms of material and labour shortages and while contingency planning mitigates a lot of risk, there is no denying that these supply chain challenges are a threat to housing retrofit. The real sticking point here is timing; a lot of the funding available for housing retrofit relies on programmes being delivered within a set timeframe. Miss the deadline and your energy efficiency measures may fail to meet the eligibility criteria for funding. There are two essential things here; we need to have agility in our supply chain and we need to be open and honest with clients. If there are problems with availability of stock for a certain energy efficiency measure, we need to be able to change tack very quickly and source an alternative product to keep the programme on track.

Sharing best practice

No matter the challenge or success with housing retrofit, it’s my view that it needs to be shared. There is a huge challenge ahead for social landlords and now is no time to keep our cards close to our chest. Sharing best practice has therefore never been more valuable. Whether it is understanding a new funding stream, grappling with policy changes or adopting new technologies, we must all raise our voices and share our achievements and lessons learnt.

*Big Energy Saving Week is a partnership between the Government, Citizens’ Advice and the Energy Savings Trust to help people cut their fuel bills