The ″greenest government ever″ must put serious money behind this scheme to let householders eco-renovate and repay their loans from their savings on fuel bills.
The UK's domestic properties need to be renovated to a high energy efficiency standard at a rate of 700,000 a year in order to have renovated them all by the year 2050. We need to do this because there are 28 million homes in the UK which are responsible for 27% of our greenhouse gas emissions, most of them will still be standing by then, and they need to be treated to make a contribution to meeting our national targets of reducing these emissions by 80% by 2050. ['The 40% House', Boardman et. al., 2005, and The Low-Carbon Strategy, 2008 (Oxford Environmental Change Institute)]
It would be alright if we knew exactly what it is that we have to do. The problem is that there are many areas of uncertainty, not least of which is the embodied energy of the materials used in construction. Unless we know this cannot estimate the carbon balance of the measures we are proposing to take and know that we are really saving carbon.
There also needs to be agreement on what measures these are to be - and they will be different for each type of property. There is an appalling lack of experience in this country of monitoring and measuring the efficacy of sustainable refurbishments that have already taken place to see how effective they have been.
One thing we do know is that they often don't live up to expectations, whether it is because of poor workmanship leaving, for example, gaps in insulation or whether it is that the occupants of the treated houses do not behave in a manner predicted by the architects and continue to turn their heating up.
Retrofit for the Future is a government-sponsored project that is hoping to find the answers to some of these questions for the social housing sector. I shared a panel with Neil Morgan, the project director, at the recent Greener Homes & Buildings show and he gave an outline of a number of research projects they are backing. One of these projects - by Anne Thorne Architects - showed that they are going for the demanding Passivhaus standard, which is more or less the standard that we are going to have to aim at in every case.
Neil gave some costs: they are allocating a budget of £120,000 per property for a sustainable renovation. Of this perhaps £60-£70,000 will actually be used for the renovation itself, the rest might go on overheads, sorting out the supply chain issues - which are right at their infancy and help to increase costs - dramatically, and post-occupancy monitoring and evaluation.
The government announced in the new energy bill that it would institute a Pay As You Save scheme to support households that wanted to carry out eco-renovation. No figure has yet been put on the loans that will be available to householders but before the election the Tories were touting the figure of £6,500.
This is about one tenth of what Retrofit for the Future is allocating. In Germany where similar pioneering work was done quite a few years ago costs in the region of £20-£40,000 per property were common, and another figure that has been offered is around at least 10% of the value of the house.
In other words, £6,500 is going to be nowhere near enough.
Everybody working in this field is advocating that whenever any work is done on a property the opportunity should be taken to renovate it to the highest possible energy efficiency standard to reduce the electricity and heating cost demands. These measures will of course pay for themselves in the future.
In other words if you are having workmen going into your house or scaffolding being put up, it makes sense to get them to do other jobs that need to be done while they are there rather than to get them back later. It would be more expensive if you were to do that and a valuable opportunity would be lost. For example if the roof is being replaced it makes a good idea to put solar water heating panels on it at the same time or at least put the pipes through the insulation and the roof so that they can be added easily later when a budget permits without having to tear apart your earlier work.
The danger is that in an era where savage public spending cuts are to be made then the amount of money that is going to be loaned to householders will be nowhere near enough, and the work will not be done to the sufficient standard. Another opportunity will have been wasted to help not only the UK reach its carbon emissions reductions targets but also for householders to reduce their ongoing energy costs.
Demand reduction is the best investment. It also means that we have to build fewer power stations and there is less likelihood of the lights going out in the future.