You’re retro-fit (but my gosh, don’t you know it)

Retrofit Conference @ Salford Quays, 24-26 January

Last week, I attended the UK’s first conference on how to sustainably retrofit the existing house stock. It was a three day affair held at the Lowry in Salford although I only made it to the last two days. It was particularly interesting as there were lots of experts, academics and businesses there who seemed open to an honest debate about the issue and the (often shared) problems they faced.

There was also quite a decent focus on local issues including a presentation by Michael O’Doherty who is head of climate change at Manchester City Council and the lead for the Greater Manchester housing retrofit programme. As well as a quick round up of what he said, I will be listing some of the key messages that I got from my time at the tightly scheduled workshops and speaking events (some more mingling time outside of the break times would have been a welcome relief.)

According to O’Doherty, domestic households are responsible for 36% of Greater Manchester emissions. There are 1.2 million homes in GM, 250,000 of which are social houses. Most of these currently have an average EPC rating of D but by 2035, 90 percent of the housing stock in GM needs to be shifted to an EPC rating of B. This is going to be particularly problematic as 943,000 houses were built before 1975 and will need additional work.

Despite this focus on the bricks and mortar, O’Doherty did state that behaviour change was just as important. He explained that the cost of behaviour change was acknowledged as key to the GM’s retrofit agenda and he highlighted the possibility of creating 8,400 jobs by 2015 through their work. This issue is discussed fully in the “Missing Quarter” report released in July 2011 which focuses on the importance of behaviour change.

Despite concerns that the Green Deal and the (limited) role it will be playing for social housing, O’Doherty explained that there were other options. Namely EU funding and he mentioned they received £10 million ERDF funding for 3,000 hard to treat social houses. They were still, however, keen to explore the opportunities that the Green Deal presents for the social housing sector.
Main points I came away with

  1. Eco and green just doesn’t sell anymore. A couple of years ago, any retrofit project wouldn’t have got off the ground without ritualistically intoning the right green buzzwords. Now, those same words can kill a project stone dead. Most people seemed in agreement that any retrofitting had to be sold as improvement, investing in the property and repairs.
  1. Behaviour change and not technology is the big issue. Speaking to a retrofit regular on the circuit, he said that there was a growing recognition that technology was the easy part of the solution. Getting people to actually use that technology properly and act in energy efficient ways in the homes was the hard work. For some this extended to placing more responsibility at the feet of occupants rather than the building and owners.
  1. Green Deal has the potential to be a useful tool. However, no-one seemed overly keen on it. Many pointed to serious flaws such as the fact that social housing will be excluded from the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) which provides funding to deal with fuel poverty. Everyone did however hold back from saying it was completely useful until the final plans were announced following the public consultation.
  1. Energy is just too cheap. Although there is a significant amount of people dealing with fuel poverty, a lot more people (approx 75% of UK population) are not and their bills are too cheap to motivate them to take up energy efficiency measures/habits. However, by the time that bills rise due to greater demand and less resources, it may be too late to do anything.
  1. Overcoming the ‘hassle factor’. Despite the above, a lot of research shows that cost wasn’t the main motivator, the hassle of clearing loft for insulation or having builders around was. However, I think that if the costs were high enough, that would overcome the hassle factor. Enforced fuel poverty is clearly not the way to go but there does need to be a balance. Bringing in personal carbon allowances for occupants, as Brenda Boardman who launched her book ‘Achieving zero: delivering future-friendly buildings‘ suggested, may be a step too far in my humble opinion.

Arwa Aburawa
Freelance Journalist

P.S. If you didn’t get the title, this may help –

About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
This entry was posted in academia, AGMA, Energy, Event reports, GM Climate Strategy and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to You’re retro-fit (but my gosh, don’t you know it)

  1. Hi Arwa,
    It sounds to me, they were not saying anything new. Behavioural change has always been an issue which politicians have not taken on-board. Hence, their continual call for growth, which, on a finite planet is not possible. There are two main issues, one is the ‘rebound affect’. This is were someone purchases something, which consumes less energy, so they use it more, ultimately consuming more energy, than before. Then, there is the way energy, is charged for, with consumers with higher consumption of energy, getting discounts. Whilst, those consuming least (especially those in fuel poverty) paying more per unit of there energy. These are issues most politicians steer well clear off, when there is a need for clear leadership, on the issue.

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