Greener housing

Published:  16 June, 2009

WEST MIDLANDS: Britain has the oldest housing stock in the developed world with 8.5 million properties over 60 years old. At current demolition rates, the average house will have to last for many more years than it was originally built to stand. 

Reports suggest that more than 80% of existing UK homes will still be standing in 2050. Improving the environmental performance of existing housing stock therefore has a crucial role to play in reducing household energy consumption and meeting the UK's ambitious CO2 emissions reduction targets.

For some time, the policy focus has been on reducing the environmental impact of newbuild housing. However, over the last year we have seen a government shift of focus towards the role of existing housing stock, reinforced by the publication of a draft Heat and Energy Saving Strategy which outlines clear priorities for the refurbishment of existing housing. In both the private and social housing sectors, we face the key challenge of reducing CO2 emissions against a backdrop of increasing household energy demand. Building professionals are increasingly seeking ways of incorporating energy saving solutions that go beyond the minimum standards of building regulations, but remain cost effective.

Faithful+Gould was commissioned to lead an assessment of the rate of refurbishment of existing housing in the West Midlands area of the UK. The report – Low Carbon Housing – developing a baseline for refurbishment in the West
Midlands, was jointly commissioned by the West Midlands Regional Assembly and Advantage West Midlands in response to a commitment in the West Midlands Regional Climate Change Action Plan. The results will be used by the Region and local stakeholders to help set informed targets, develop programmes of work and influence regionally based strategies and policies.

The assessment focused on one year, April 2007 to March 2008, and established a baseline of the current level of housing refurbishment, total spend on refurbishment and impact of refurbishment on energy consumption and CO2 emissions. This baseline was then reviewed against existing and proposed targets for CO2 reduction in the West Midlands and also projected against the UK's proposed carbon budgets.

The baseline findings were as follows:

  • Over one million households refurbished (43% of all homes in the Region), and over 500 000 individual energy efficiency measures installed.
  • £2.47bn spent on refurbishment with £406.9m spent on energy efficiency improvements.
  • 714 gigawatt hours of energy per year and 147 577-tonnes CO2 saved annually.

To meet the proposed UK carbon budget 2008-2011 for households, the West Midlands must make an additional reduction of 68 000-tonnes CO2 a year, an increase of 46%.

Recommendations included:
  • Clear Regional targets should be set reflecting UK carbon budgets up to 2022 
  • The Region should focus on activities that will deliver the greatest energy savings (insulation, energy efficient heating) and in areas where the carbon impact of energy reduction will be the greatest (e.g. transferring rural homes on carbon intensive fuels to low carbon alternatives) 
  • Energy efficient refurbishment should not be considered in isolation from behaviour change and the switch to low or zero carbon fuels
  • Regional manufacturers, suppliers, and installers are essential to achieving targets and a commitment to investment will provide assurance to enable business to build capacity and develop new skills

The importance of energy and CO2 emissions reduction in existing homes is a global issue. The UK is the first country to set legally binding CO2 reduction targets, and is also influenced by European legislation such as the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive which is driving minimum performance standards across all member states.

Sustainable building principles such as the PassivHaus standard developed in Germany are also providing a driving force in the household sector.

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