Trade alliance uses the occasion of this month’s global climate change meeting in Glasgow to highlight the safety and environmental case for mass scale retrofit of UK homes
Actuate UK, the cross-industry building engineering alliance, has used COP26 to demand better collaboration between government and the construction sector on retrofitting buildings to be more energy efficient.
Michelle Agha-Hossein, Building Performance and Soft Landings Lead for Actuate UK member BSRIA, said that much more needed to be done to support energy improvements in the UK’s building stock. This retrofit focus would be a vital step to support lower carbon heat on a national scale in a way that was both economically and technically feasible, Ms Agha-Hossein added. She said, “The UK government has acknowledged that the built environment will need to be almost completely decarbonised by 2050, and that achieving this must be through a mix of energy efficiency measures and a transition to low carbon technologies. Currently the UK has the least energy efficient housing stock in Europe , But this is not just an environmental issue. For many people, high and increasing energy bills means a stark choice between heating or eating.”
Ms Agha-Hossein was speaking on 11 November at the COP26 International Climate Change Conference in Glasgow during a session hosted by the Construction Leadership Council looking at carbon reduction in the built environment.
Actuate UK noted that 2019 data from the Climate Change Committee (CCC) estimated that the UK’s buildings accounted for nearly a quarter of national carbon emissions. This was largely attributed to a reliance on fossil fuels for space heating and hot water.
With an estimated 80 per cent of existing UK buildings still expected to be in use by 2050, a focus on energy efficiency improvements in these buildings is considered a major challenge needed to be overcome to meet the country’s decarbonisation aims.
Efforts to ensure that industry can deliver at nationwide focus on retrofit that address both the energy efficiency of a building along with the safety and wellbeing of occupants was identified by Ms Agha-Hossein as being a major priority for addressing many challenges facing the sector.
She said, “Retrofitting will not only have environmental benefits but also social gains as we must ensure decarbonising buildings will optimise occupant safety, health and comfort. This is where building services engineers will play a pivotal role.” She added, “There will be challenges, ranging from financial barriers, skill gaps, and need for a cultural change in the way we design, deliver, and use our buildings. But we are making progress to address these.”
The built environment at COP26
Calls for a concerted government focus on retrofitting the existing UK building stock to ensure properties are more energy efficient were also backed in a new roadmap guide set out this week by the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC).
The release of the UKGBC’s Net Zero Whole Life Carbon Roadmap, which also coincides with COP26, is demanding the government go beyond the commitments set out in its recent Heat and Buildings Strategy by committing to end the sale of fossil fuel heating systems within nine years.
It also has called for a major focus on improving the efficiency of existing buildings and ensuring lower-income homes can also transition away from fossil fuel heat.