R4TF Update: Only 8% of Projects Have Achieved 80% Reduction So Far

29th May, 2013

Achieving an 80% reduction in the in-use CO2 emissions of a property is an ambitious target. And this was exactly the goal of projects taking part in the Retrofit for the Future programme. Set up by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) in 2009, Retrofit for the Future (R4TF) provided funding to refurbish over 100 homes across the UK, with the aim of discovering what it will take to seriously reduce the carbon emissions of our existing housing stock.

The properties were mainly two-storey homes, with a couple of bungalows included too, and all of the homes had two or more bedrooms. After the refurbishment work was carried out, the performance of each property was closely monitored for two years, and TSB has published a report examining the results of a third of the retrofits and what they mean for our carbon reduction strategies and refurbishment programmes. The data will allow identification of the successful energy-saving measures, as well as providing insight into resident comfort and how industry can overcome specific challenges.

The TSB analysed the data from 37 properties and found that three achieved the desired 80% reduction in CO2 emissions, with 23 reaching between 50% and 80%. TSB’s Paul Ruyssevelt explains: “Out of the 100 properties in the Retrofit for the Future programme, we were able to analyse the carbon emission performance of 37: those that had a full year's monitoring data. There will be an update of our analysis later this year with up to 20 additional properties. We are very pleased that three properties exceeded the target of an 80% reduction in carbon emissions, and that the majority achieved a 50% to 80% reduction. The three that exceeded the 80% target all had a good level of airtightness and the management of the projects was of a very high standard.”

The key result, aside from the reduction in carbon emissions that followed a retrofit project, was that residents living in retrofitted houses are more able to afford to keep their homes at a comfortable temperature. This is particularly important at a time when the UK has been named the worst place for fuel poverty in Europe, with an estimated 5m families living in fuel poverty, according to figures from the Association for the Conservation for Energy and the Energy Bill Revolution campaign. And this is largely down to our poorly insulated homes, as our energy prices are not higher than those in Europe. When you consider that one of the retrofitted houses now has gas and electricity costs of £374 per year, successful low-carbon refurb becomes incredibly attractive.

So, what makes for a successful retrofit project? The TSB’s report says that working closely with the property owner or tenant is crucial, ensuring they are engaged from the start and throughout the work being carried out. Training should then be provided, so that the resident understands how any new technology works, such as heating controls, and how to maximise the return from any renewable energy sources. Training for support staff is also necessary – so that residents can call up for help.

Back at the planning stage, research should begin early – TSB recommends looking for suitable products and suppliers as soon as possible, so that a collaborative environment can be created, and potential issues with product availability and lead times can be overcome. Also at the planning stage, a detailed contingency plan should be drawn up in case there are unforeseen challenges in the course of the project. The order that work will be carried out should be carefully sequenced, so that any cost savings can be maximised and disruption minimised. Communication plays a vital role once on site, between the project team members and also with the residents. Site staff should be briefed on the importance of achieving good airtightness.

The report certainly didn’t say that we have an easy task ahead of us, but does show that, with careful planning and attention to detail, the industry can achieve some pretty impressive reductions in carbon emissions and energy bills.

Further information
The Technology Strategy Board has made the full data set from Retrofit for the Future available through a database called ‘embed’, which can be accessed via www.retrofitanalysis.org.

This article first appeared in Greenbuild magazine, April-May

Related Note:  Paul Ruyssevelt co-Chairs the Editorial Board of Retro Expo the UK’s national retrofit event taking place at the NEC, Birmingham on 05-06 November 2013 - visit www.retro-expo.co.uk for more details.

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