School of Built Environment, Engineering and Computing

Leeds Beckett Researcher on BBC Look North to investigate Energy Efficiency of Homes

Dr David Glew, Head of Energy Efficiency at the Leeds Sustainability Institute, discusses his recent experience on BBC Look North’s special report on the future of housing.

Zero carbon housing development

I was recently invited to be a guest on BBC Look North’s special report on the future of housing, as part of their Earth Day programming. They were presenting from a fantastic, zero carbon, new housing development, built by CITU in Leeds City Centre on the banks of the River Aire. While this is a showcase of sustainable living, the reality for most new housing projects in the country is far from this tranquil idle.

 

On the program, I was asked about how other new build housing schemes in the UK compared to the CITU development. I drew attention to the fact that according to the Government’s own energy efficiency rating system, known as EPCs or Energy Performance Certificates, only a fraction (1.6%) of homes are built to the highest energy efficiency rating. EPCs range from A (highest) to G (lowest) and sadly, for every single house built to A standards, there are four houses built to D or lower standards.

 

Despite this, new build homes are generally much more efficient than existing homes, most are built to an EPC rating of a B. And so increasing building regulations to require new homes to be an A would seem like a useful policy lever for government to pull, especially if they are serious about achieving net-zero carbon policy targets by 2050.

 

However, one of the main challenges that I mentioned in the interview was that of existing homes, since it is thought that these will make up over 85% of all homes that will exist in 2050. This is a major problem for the Government’s carbon targets, and so they have put in place a target aiming to get all homes to an EPC rating of C by 2035. Unfortunately, over 60% of our homes currently fall short of this standard and it will take a huge investment to get them to this level in time.

 

The reporter was keen to understand how funding can be sourced to undertake this enormous challenge. I explained that the existing Government funding mechanism for retrofits, called the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) is only aimed at addressing fuel poverty. Eradicating fuel poverty is a noble goal, but it affects far fewer households than the national net-zero carbon target. As a result, ECO’s budget is relatively small, though at around £500 million per year the numbers are eye-wateringly big. ECO has provided improvements in around 2.3 million homes over the last five years. Yet, this installation rate needs to at least double if all 29 million homes are going to be improved before 2050.

 

Perhaps even more significantly, the types of improvements being made to homes will no longer be able to be the low hanging fruit of cavity wall insulation, loft insulation and new boilers. This certainly means they will be more expensive, too. Unfortunately, there are currently no plans to increase funding for retrofits on this scale and there is still no national strategy for retrofitting homes. Thus, building companies have an uncertain future on which to plan, and homeowners are left unsure over what options they have. No more proof of this is needed than the recent failure of the Green Homes Grant; the latest policy rushed together to improve the energy efficiency of our homes. This may not necessarily be a bad thing, however, several months ago we predicted this policy was not fit for purpose in our Green Homes Grant blog and briefing note.

 

The need to undertake “deeper” retrofits in homes is further underpinned by the fact that problems such as condensation risk are reduced when a whole-house approach is adopted, rather than a piecemeal one. This is a concept that the Leeds Sustainability Institute has been researching for several years, and most notably is the topic of the current project I am leading - DEEP or the Demonstration of Energy Efficiency Potential - a £2.8 million Government-funded project. Our first report for DEEP was recently published by the Government. In this 3-year project, we are delivering around 50 retrofits on behalf of landlords across Yorkshire and measuring the benefit and risks associated with a whole-house versus a piecemeal approach to retrofit. In addition to this, Dr Jim Parker is leading investigations into models used to predict energy savings and risks in homes resulting from retrofits, and we hope that the insights from this project will provide advice to the government on how to improve its models, like those used to generate EPCs.

Dr David Glew

Reader / School Of Built Environment, Engineering And Computing

Dr Glew is Head of Energy Efficiency at the LSI and manages the LSI interdisciplinary research projects on domestic retrofits. Over the last 5 years he has been responsible for delivering research contracts worth over £3 million, aimed at informing energy policy. He has published in multiple peer review publications, supervises doctoral students in the LSI and has been appointed to government advisory panels.

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