Conversations at the Murton household about plans to retrofit and update our home are ongoing. We’d like to create a home office, so we’re looking at the building’s footprint and considering how an extension could work for us, ultimately providing a home that’s comfortable and cost-effective to run.
While we live and breathe retrofit, it isn’t front of mind – or even understood – by everyone, but that might all change if the government heeds the advice of its ‘net zero tsar’. As chair of the recently published Net Zero Review, MP Chris Skidmore has proposed setting up a raft of local retrofit hubs over the next couple of years, to support people in making upgrades to their homes. A partnership between government and industry would create a national programme to help facilitate local retrofit delivery.
He talks about, “bringing together all relevant stakeholders to enable locally driven retrofit programmes” which is music to my ears. The review explains that trust should be built across the retrofit sector by identifying and supporting clear and necessary strategic links across industries; holding the evidence base for what works and providing a safe space for innovation; delivering communications to establish household demand; and signposting and creating resources for delivering the vital interaction between information, incentives, and installers.
It all sounds just like the ‘drum’ I’ve been beating for some time, namely that retrofitting is timely and vital, but that collaboration is needed between retrofit assessors, building regulation officers and fitters in order to do it properly. Of course, if the government does go ahead and implement these ideas, we’ll need tradespeople with the specific skills to carry out retrofit work – something the review highlights. It wants the government to publish an action plan for Net Zero skills that includes a comprehensive roadmap of when, where, and in which sectors there will be skills needs specific to net zero. Re-training is one key solution, something Murton & Co are already on board with (link to Mark article), as we embark on a long-term recruitment programme for non-domestic energy assessors.
The government is also being urged to mandate the Future Homes Standard, ensuring that all new homes built from 2025 will produce 75-80% less carbon emissions than homes delivered under current regulations, and for all homes sold to achieve a C grade EPC by 2033 – quite a bold ambition, but one I’d endorse. The report suggests that it could consider a Net Zero Homes Standard in the future as a target that properties can aspire to, recognising that those which have taken steps to be as efficient as possible through a mixture of fabric and low carbon heating measures will be more financially desirable to live in, buy, and sell.
Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) get a mention in the report too, and like many organisations it urges the government to shake them up using a new metric which better reflects the current relative costs of heat pumps and accounts for wider benefits from low-carbon heating systems. The result would be a new and holistic NZPC (Net Zero Performance Certificate) that gives homeowners and landlords more detailed information about a heating system’s financial and social impacts. Again, that’s a yes from me as EPCs are certainly due a shake-up; the current A to G rating on your certificate simply tells you how cheap or expensive your home might be to run compared to other homes, based on standard occupants, standard temperature and standard running costs but not a particular person’s usage.
This review reflects a real sense of urgency, so let’s hope ministers act swiftly on these sensible suggestions. There have been too many times when government has dragged its heels over deadlines or capitulated on policy. For example, there’s still no definite date for residential landlords to work towards upgrading their properties’ EPC ratings, nearly two years after the government first announced its proposals. With the clock ticking, many are dragging their heels while they wait for confirmation or even calling it quits due to uncertainty over costs.
While we’re waiting on the government’s response, the day-to-day business of energy assessments and the resulting retrofit work is keeping us busy. And one of our aims is helping clients to be clear about their objectives and what they are basing decisions on: comfort and/or price? If someone doesn’t want any energy bills, retrofit costs could be substantial if they fit out all those great energy-saving initiatives such as solar panels, a heat pump and wall insulation. If those costs are too high, however, they’ll need to scale back on spending but recognise that those energy bills won’t be as low as they might want. It’s always important to think about possible energy savings when you’re making home improvements, but these can be eradicated if you’re extending a property because you’re creating more square feet to heat. However, if you’re already living in your forever home, your budget might be less front-of-mind. We have no plans to move but are still wrestling with those issues. Like the government, we need to start making some decisions…