One of the biggest blocks to the UK reaching its obligations to achieve net zero carbon status by 2050 is the fact that almost all the UK’s 29 million homes will need to be retrofitted in order to meet it, according to a Committee on Climate Change report. 

Richard Steer

Richard Steer

Of those, 3.3 million are inter-war homes, half of which have uninsulated solid walls and are among England’s worst performing in terms of gas energy use density.

This is a huge issue given that emissions need to fall by about 25% from 1990 levels for the UK to reach its carbon budget by 2050; but in the housing sector, the implementation of measures to reduce emissions has stalled. The rate of installation of insulation (cavity wall, solid wall and loft), for example, fell between 2012 and 2017, according to the RIBA.

When you consider that the architects’ professional body has calculated that provision of insulation, double glazing and gas boiler replacements in those 3.3 million inter-war homes could cut the UK’s total carbon by 4%, you get an idea of the impact this could have. While that figure is considered overly optimistic by some, no one argues that a major retrofitting programme would not only produce warmer, more energy-efficient homes that are cheaper to run, but would also create 500,000 green jobs.

So, what’s not to like? Well, the cost is certainly one thing that will not appeal to the Treasury, if we are looking at funding being provided by central government. A national retrofitting roll-out carries a price tag of around £38bn, far more than the current green homes subsidy. These concerns are compounded by experts at green energy think tanks, who have said there should be a ‘hierarchy of improvements’ based on greatest return on investment.

Instead, the RIBA is suggesting policies for private owners, who own more than 70% of inter-war homes, and social landlords to foot the bill. This may be popular with tenants but does not necessarily offer any payback for the funder, unless they can achieve better rental yields through energy-efficient homes, which offer long-term savings on energy bills.

Richard Steer is chair of Gleeds Worldwide