Working collaboratively on the road to net zero.
In 2022, we completed the retrofit of 140 homes for Stevenage Borough Council, a collaborative project where innovation was embraced, lessons were learned and best practice was adopted.
Delivered through the Green Homes Grant Local Authority Delivery (LAD) scheme, the contract combined energy efficiency measures, including Photovoltaics (PV) and Thermabead Cavity Wall Insulation (CWI), the success of which has enabled Stevenage Borough Council to make great strides in its journey to net zero.
Working in partnership with Stevenage, we assessed 178 properties for energy efficiency measures by undertaking in-depth retrofit assessments with our PAS 2035 compliance partner, Energy Specifics. Once assessed, each home was reviewed jointly by us and the council to establish the most suitable and cost-effective energy efficiency measures to bring the greatest benefits. This partnership approach has continued throughout the project, making it easier to tackle challenges which might arise.
This approach has given us valuable lessons to take forward into the next phase of retrofit work. Properties that did not qualify for LAD funding will be taken forward in the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF) Wave 1 programme, on which we supported Stevenage to secure funding. Retrofit funding streams are fast paced and time bound, and so moving forward with shared best practice will be fundamental for future phases of the retrofit programme.
Tailored energy efficiency measures
When it comes to housing retrofit, there is no ‘one size fits all’. What works for one property may not be suitable or viable for another. Driven by the aims of reducing fuel poverty and improving each home’s EPC rating to C, the project took a whole-house approach with each home assessed to establish the energy efficiency measures that would make the most impact.
During this assessment process, PV panels achieved the highest Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) score and were therefore installed at 100 homes, with an additional 50 homes receiving new Cavity Wall Insulation, with further measures including low energy lighting and mineral wool loft insulation. We also devised an improved ventilation strategy for the homes, including upgrades to mechanical ventilation or installation of new ventilation to ensure PAS 2035 compliance.
Supply chain innovation
As leaders in housing repairs and maintenance, we have an established supply chain with which it works closely to identify innovation, mitigate risks and value engineer contracts. Our close supply chain partnerships, as well as our local supply chain partners, were invaluable in this contract. Delivering retrofit work within funding deadlines is essential to qualify for housing retrofit grants, and so we worked closely with suppliers and sub-contractors to overcome industry-wide material and skill shortages without a compromise to PAS 2035 compliance. Project scaffolding was also supplied by a local SME, First Choice Scaffolding, ensuring our work brought local economic benefit to the town.
As one of the UK’s fastest growing sectors, green technology is evolving at pace and new systems and solutions are regularly brought to market. For our housing retrofit clients, it is vital that we stay ahead of the curve and embrace new innovations. For Stevenage, this saw the team install GSM meters to the PV panels, giving the council remote access to the individual PV systems to monitor data and assess performance. This will result in operational efficiency, preventing the need for the council to visit properties to assess the PV systems, allowing for quick and immediate access to view energy production and consumption. In addition, pigeon protection has been installed alongside PV panels to protect them from damage and prolong their life.
Exceptional resident engagement
As experts in occupied refurbishment, we engaged residents and guided them through the work being undertaken, sharing product information, and helping them to understand the benefits of the energy efficiency measures being installed. Communication with residents has been proactive and transparent, enabling us to deliver retrofit work within funding timescales. As a result, residents’ knowledge of their own properties has increased, including when best to utilise electricity generated by the PV panels and how ventilation systems can be optimised.
Delivering value for money
Value for money was achieved by reviewing stock condition data to identify any potential requirements for refurb and maintenance. Although the project was, first and foremost, focused on reducing energy consumption, assessing stock condition meant the team could recommend repair and replacement work to run alongside energy efficiency measures. This created cost efficiency by utilising scaffolding while in situ, enabling the council to bring forward future investments in repairs and maintenance. Additional works delivered included roof replacements for six properties where PV panels were installed and new windows for an additional six homes.
Developing best practice
As a relatively new challenge for the industry, social housing retrofit is a journey of lessons to learn and best practice to develop. Adopting a collaborative approach with the council made this a shared journey, through which we overcame challenges with resident engagement, property access, supply chain and materials. Risk was reviewed regularly and carefully managed, and contingency was built into the contract to ensure that the team achieved the overall objective of EPC C ratings across the properties on time to ensure funding compliance.
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