Decarbonisation of housing stock is a key step in addressing climate change. However, the wider real-life benefits are felt most acutely within the social housing sector, and work towards creating a levelled-up country too. Derek Horrocks, owner of specialist retrofit decarbonisation turnkey provider Sustainable Building Services (UK), discusses why these broader positive impacts cannot be underestimated in our drive towards a better, more sustainable future.
There are some 29 million domestic properties across the UK, with a majority requiring significant energy-efficiency and microgeneration improvements. Roughly 4.5 million of these are social homes in England – a number that increased by 31,000 last year alone.
Social landlords are in many ways already leading the way on housing decarbonisation, seeking to tackle the climate emergency and ongoing energy crisis. However, we shouldn’t neglect the other benefits that can be achieved alongside these aims – all of which will help the millions of people living in social homes.
Home upgrades don’t just lower emissions – they create a real positive impact on people and society in many ways often under considered next to net-zero goals. The health benefits are not limited to short-term avoidance of winter bugs, but longer-term too including better management of chronic conditions.
Better thermal comfort through heating and insulation upgrades keep homes warmer in the winter, but also cooler in the summer – and with climate change seeing us having to cope with hotter weather year-on-year, this reduces the risk of heat exhaustion.
Enhanced air quality in homes reduces the exposure to pollutants, creating lower risk and easier management of respiratory problems, like asthma.
Improved overall health means fewer lost school or work days, allowing people to maximise the opportunities afforded to them, while wider society and the economy benefits from higher levels of productivity. Plus, healthier people will mean lower pressure on the NHS, reducing the escalating demand on every service area.
The mental tax of living in poor housing is evident. The first – and most obvious – point being that higher-quality homes are comfortable, feel safer and are more pleasant to inhabit, leading to happier residents.
However, social housing is often home to vulnerable and lower-income households, who are disproportionately impacted by the energy crisis and fuel poverty. Research carried out by the National Housing Federation in 2022 revealed that social renters in the most inefficient homes were having to spend 15.5% of their income on heating.
The same study reported more than half of social homes are rated at EPC A, B or C, but through upgrading those remaining, it could save residents upwards of £700m annually in heating costs – equating to a substantial 42% average household saving.
Simply put, by upgrading the energy efficiency of homes, the amount of energy required to run them is reduced, meaning lower bills for tenants. There is no question that this will promote better wellbeing, reducing the financial burden and stress.
Again, this creates a snowball effect. Improved wellbeing means less pressure on NHS resources, reducing overall waiting times for support. It also means fewer sick days taken – which, according to the Labour Force Survey, averaged at 18.6 days for stress, depression or anxiety in 2021/22. And, in turn, this means lower levels of wage loss for earners and more money back in their accounts as a result.
Maximising funding opportunities and accessing expertise
The second wave of funding through the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund – valued at £800m – will see successful registered social housing providers mobilising works as quickly as possible.
But successful or not in the Wave 2 funding, housing providers must be considering their options. This means seeking the suppliers best positioned to provide end-to-end solutions to streamline processes and budgets. For example, for those projects being funded by the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, housing providers must be working with installers that are Trustmark registered and delivering work to PAS 2035:2019.
We provide full ‘turnkey’ large-scale PAS retrofit project management and installation solutions, allowing clients to reap the benefits of having a single supplier taking responsibility for all roles, alongside project management and energy efficiency and microgeneration measures installation. And – as required under PAS 2035 – our network of retrofit supply-chain partners, including assessors, designers and coordinators, provide clients with unbiased project support, following best practice and the fabric-first principles of the specification.
We are one of a small number of contractors who have delivered decarbonisation projects at scale under Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF) Demonstrator and Wave 1, Local Authority Delivery (LAD) and Home Upgrade Grant (HUG). From this experience, we can advise clients on the best approaches and blended funding options, which can also include privately-owned households – and we know that collaboration and stakeholder engagement is central to the effective delivery of work.
All stakeholders must also know the expected outcomes and have a clear idea of how those outcomes will be achieved from the earliest possible point. This is key to ensuring that budgets are used effectively and that the maximum number of residents benefit from the works.
Since the introduction of the new PAS standards, too often a lack of clarity from inexperienced stakeholder teams has seen an under-estimation of costs and timescales. This is because the groups involved haven’t been familiar with the demands of the process, nor how to deliver multiple measures in a timely and efficient way. This means costs can escalate, and the number of treated properties must be reduced.
Critically, the early engagement must involve residents. A ‘right-first-time’ approach is needed to minimise any disruption to people, but as the work we carry out is on their homes. We must make sure they know what will happen and when – but mostly how it will benefit them.
The final note
Local authorities and housing associations essentially have a golden opportunity. Instead of just improving the energy efficiency of their building stock, they can take the unique step of combining numerous benefits in one swoop, which work to achieve net zero, making homes safer and improving people’s quality of life.
Plus, a highly-skilled retrofit and maintenance ‘green’ workforce is needed. This is a fast-emerging sector that provides huge job creation potential through new practices, processes and innovation, along with the physical delivery of decarbonisation schemes.
The message is clear; one coordinated approach working towards solving a multitude of the UK’s biggest challenges. It’s up to specialists like us, the emerging specialist supply chain and housing providers to collaborate and make it a reality.