School of Built Environment, Engineering and Computing

Leeds Beckett research finds that a rethinking of how standards are designed may be needed to avoid retrofit failures in millions of homes

Research lead by Dr Fiona Fylan, Head of Sustainable Behaviour at the Leeds Sustainability Institute (LSI), has revealed that there may have been a missed opportunity to put the views and perspectives of on-the-ground retrofit installers at the heart of new retrofit standards, which could threaten the quality and quantity of retrofits taking place, creating an obstacle for the Government’s 2050 net zero carbon targets.

The UK has committed to being net zero carbon by 2050, and a major part of this is to improve the thermal performance of around 28 million homes in the UK. Additionally, the Government wants to thermally retrofit the nation’s homes, such that all houses have an Energy Performance Certificate of C by 2035, yet currently only 40% do. Thus, to achieve these two policy objectives, several tens of thousands of retrofits are needed per week, more than double the current installation rate.

Another problem for the Government is that the quality of the retrofits that have taken place have also been subject to fierce criticism, not least because Ofgem data suggests around 10% of retrofits fail technical monitoring. This resulted in an industry lead review called Each Home Counts. One of the main findings of this was, that standards were not being properly followed, and so a new standard (PAS 2035) was introduced to regulate the process of achieving the standards (PAS 2030).

New research undertaken by Dr Fylan and Dr David Glew from the Leeds Sustainability Institute (LSI), has found that awareness, enthusiasm and trust among installers of the existing retrofit standards was particularly low, and it is not clear how this may be addressed by the new standards. 

Specifically, installers thought the standards were deliberately unrealistic and did not reflect real-life situations so that manufacturers could avoid liability if there were any problems in the future. The new PAS2035 standards should allow a retrofit coordinator to build trust and to evaluate such onsite workarounds for suitability which may address this problem. However, this relies on the retrofit coordinator being trusted by the installers, something that this research suggests may not be the case.

Additionally, Dr Fylan’s research suggests that the installers do not always fully understand the implications of following the standards and that it can lead to future problems with damp or underperformance. Under the new standards the retrofit coordinator may be able to help explain the consequences of not achieving standards to installers, but this relies on the retrofit coordinator being a trusted and valued member of the team.

Previous research has shown that having more policing of standards can be a more effective approach compared to relying on more training and skills. The new retrofit standards, however, have not increased the formal policing level delivered (technical monitoring). Instead, they rely on more informal checks by the retrofit coordinator and it remains to be seen if this internal policing will carry the same weight and effectiveness and avoid conflicts of interest.

The revisions of the retrofit standards have not adopted a bottom-up approach to consider how installers themselves can be encouraged to deliver the required standards through behaviour change techniques. Instead, it has taken a top-down approach by adding a new layer of standards and an additional layer of management. The problems identified in this research, from the installer’s point of view, maybe addressed by the new standards, however, it appears a lot may depend on having competent Retrofit Coordinators who are welcomed and trusted by installers.

Download the report, Barriers to domestic retrofit quality: Are failures in retrofit standards a failure of retrofit standards?

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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