The existing housing stock in England accounts for 27% of national carbon dioxide emissions. The UK Government has already introduced stringent requirements for all newly built social / affordable housing to meet in terms of energy performance under the ‘Code for Sustainable Homes’. Further, they have set a target that all new homes will be zero carbon by 2016. Despite this, a standard remains to be introduced to tackle emissions from the existing housing stock of some 22,000,000 homes which represent the main challenge.
The ‘Generation Homes’ (GH) refurbishment, completed by Radian group (Drum Housing) in 2007, was the first sizeable project of its kind to be undertaken in the UK and comprised the energy efficient refurbishment of six homes built in the 1950’s. The benchmark for GH compliance is that post refurbishment the home must either produce no greater than 2 tonnes of annual household CO2 emissions or the total annual emissions must be reduced by a minimum of 60% per annum. The GH figure is set at 60% because this aligns with the Government’s pledge to reduce overall CO2 emissions nationally by this amount by the year 2050.
Regardless of the cuts required to be made in emissions in other sectors in order to achieve the 2050 target, such as industry and transportation, it is estimated that a minimum of 450,000 existing homes need to be refurbished to the GH standard or similar every year from the present to 2050. Only a very limited number of examples have been completed nationally to date meaning that a higher number of refurbishments will be required in subsequent years to keep the possibility of meeting the target realistically on track.
How the Government will legislate or assist in driving such an enormous programme of work forward remains to be seen. Similarly, serious consideration to the financing and up-skilling within the construction industry is required to make progress a reality.
Radian’s GH project provides details of one satisfactory solution to the challenge and was acknowledged by several national awards in 2007 in recognition that wide scale replication of the approach is now urgently needed. The pilot scheme cost €32,000 per home and CO2 reductions of an impressive 75% were in fact achieved post refurbishment (from 9.8 to 2.4 tonnes annually) by installing a package of energy efficient and renewable energy measures.
Radian estimate that more around 12% of its residents in their 16,000 existing homes are living in fuel poverty (e.g. they are spending more than 10% of their disposable income on heating costs), a proportion that has been exacerbated by high increases in fuel costs during recent years. At the GH project, some residents were formally spending as much as €1,500 on heating and power each year in a temperate climate. Monitoring over the period of one year since completion reveals that on average running costs have been reduced by 50% helping to provide much needed affordable warmth.