5 things to help steer you on your path to net zero
Whisper it quietly, but there’s a hint of confidence and a whiff of hopefulness in the air.
You may not feel it quite yet, and if not, I really don’t blame you – overwhelming confusion as to how to meet competing demands (see my retrofit vs new build article here) and concern over funding (see my blog about the Local Authority Delivery scheme) are just two of the prevailing challenges affecting the drive for net zero housing stock.
But trust me, these challenges will be overcome and the signs of positive progress are there, in the background.
The planet and its people need us to take action, and at last there’s a growing feeling that governments (not just ours) have a plan and are making a concerted effort; impetus is growing ahead of COP26 in Glasgow in November. Demand is now growing for green initiatives and tech, and many local authorities are setting targets for net zero way ahead of the Government’s 2050 aim.
Of course, there is a lot more that our Government needs to do to support social housing providers, with the recent budget being a missed opportunity to include a clearer retrofit agenda, for example. Its plans are far from joined up, but we do at least have legally binding targets in our sights.
But how do we play our part in achieving that goal?
Retrofitting the country’s existing housing stock will be central to any national strategy. LHC (CPC’s partner framework provider) has been working in this area for nearly 30 years. In November it launched the Energy Efficiency Measures and Associated Works Framework, also known as N8 – so called because it’s the eighth edition. It was built on the foundations of previous iterations, but also was created after the team looked beyond the horizon to assess what technology and other solutions are coming down the line.
Given all this experience, I asked my colleagues for their advice for CPC clients in the North.
Here are their top five tips:
- Always have net zero in mind. That means trying to harness every opportunity – using every interaction with a building – to move it closer to decarbonisation. Think: “Is there any way this planned work could bring this home closer to EPC Band C or above?” If you can do that, it will mean every little thing you do will move your stock one step towards our energy and carbon targets.
- Take a fabric first approach. This is something I wrote about in a previous blog (you can check it out here) and it’s worth reiterating how important this is. Previous retrofit incentives and Government schemes, such as ECO funding, have essentially removed all of the ‘quick wins’ like loft and cavity insulation, which means it’s now more difficult to further improve the energy efficiency of a home. So think about how and when the fabric can be further updated. Internal wall insulation can be a solution, but it needs careful consideration as it can be disruptive to install and decrease floor space. Going back to point 1 – if, for example, you are refurbishing the interior, can internal insulation be done at the same time? If the windows are being replaced, can you use triple glazing instead of double? The other benefit of fabric first is that it’s usually a passive solution that doesn’t require significant behavioural change in how people use their homes.
- There is no single solution to decarbonising a home. Each building is unique, and will require a combination of measures to get it to where it needs to be, so the N8 framework has been designed with maximum flexibility to help local authorities and registered providers do just that. LHC’s experts have assessed everything that’s currently on the market, and newly emerging technologies, to provide a range of solutions that can work on their own or in tandem. The framework features 21 measures, from insulation to electric heaters, boiler optimisation technologies to heat pumps. Click here to find out more.
- Use a consultant with sound social housing experience and credentials. With the range of options available, it can difficult to assess what will work best for you, your stock, your tenants and your budget. You need something that works for everyone, is cost-effective, and still moves you along the road to net zero. Affordability for the tenant is also a major consideration – for example heat pumps will work for some homes, especially those off the gas grid, but due to their higher electricity consumption they may end up costing the tenant more to run. You will find help through our Energy Efficiency Consultancy Services (N8C) Framework, which is designed to complement N8.
- Investigate the possibilities of hydrogen. This is an interesting low-carbon fuel source that has the potential to replace gas as an alternative way to heat our homes, with strides already being taken to introduce it to the country’s networks. Some boiler manufacturers are also starting to deliver solutions that include hydrogen alongside natural gas, which provide benefits for a number of reasons. Not only can they be used in homes on the existing gas network, and would be a good way to reduce the emissions of homes where insulation isn’t appropriate (such as in old Victorian houses), but they would also go some way to addressing the huge skills shortage being faced in the sector as existing gas engineers can be used for their installation.
Reasons to be cheerful
LHC’s 30-year experience in this area of housing improvement gives us hope for a green future.
There’s more commitment now, from the Government (which wants to put itself on the world stage, and which sees net zero as essential to revitalising the economy) and from the industry. There’s now a roadmap that didn’t previously exist.
So while we are facing skills shortages and other challenges, we are as sure as we can be about the direction of travel in terms of legislation, regulations, standards and financial support. This should inject confidence into the supply chain, encourage investment in jobs and technology, increase demand and drive down costs.
For that reason, social housing providers shouldn’t wait. Act now, assess the way forward, and use every opportunity you can to decrease emissions from your housing stock.
Gary Cawley, Director of CPC