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Industry opinion Home truths

The most important home improvement is energy

effi ciency, reckons Andrew Leech, executive director of the National Home Improvement Council


ver the past decade the term ‘home improvement’ has taken on an important new perspective. No longer is a new kitchen or bathroom the main priority; instead the

emphasis has switched to lowering carbon footprints, raising energy efficiency standards and reducing household running costs. In the UK, we have more than 26 million homes

(owner occupied and public and privately rented), comprising a multitude of styles, materials and methods of construction. A significant number of them are amongst the oldest housing stock in Europe, and have been around for 100 years or more. The majority of them will need to survive for at least another century in order to keep pace with the nation’s burgeoning demographic requirements. So the refurbishment, maintenance

and improvement (RMI) industry, its product manufacturers, suppliers and providers of specialist services, have a mammoth task ahead. The energy we consume in our homes

standards. This means completing 50,000 homes next year, a doubling of that for the year after, and a doubling of that for the year after that, until we are refurbishing whole homes at the rate of 1.6m a year. Disappointingly, we are nowhere near on course.

In fact, the current rate of energy efficient home refurbishment is not even tickling the surface of our nation’s housing stock. In the present economic climate of major capital

savings and drastic fi nancial cutbacks, we urgently need to create new jobs and improve skills and training. Home improvement – of the energy effi ciency kind – could be one panacea for our fi scal malaise.

The current rate of energy effi cient home refurbishment is not even tickling the surface of our nation’s housing stock

contributes to almost 30 per cent of the UK’s total carbon emissions of more than 500 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) every year. The Climate Change Act of 2008 was passed to address the challenge of reducing this and to establish a near-zero carbon emissions target for all homes by 2050.

Emission impossible? Whether or not this can be achieved remains to be seen but certainly the basic framework is already in place to help move it forward. Energy Performance Certifi cates (EPCs), for example, provide an opportunity to create policies, and formulate programmes and financial incentives, to address the work that must be done. It may seem a long way off to 2050. But in order

to meet this long term target, by the end of the next decade we should have completely refurbished at least 7 million homes up to the required energy effi ciency

Effi ciency savings Indeed, it has the potential to create a highly lucrative and progressive marketplace. According to the Federation of Master Builders, over £23bn is spent each year on RMI work in the existing housing sector, yet this figure does not include the ‘energy effi ciency’ ingredient, which is now of

paramount importance. Estimates for bringing the average pre-1990s house

up to as near to zero carbon emissions as possible, range from £20,000 to £80,000. Even at the lower estimate, for RMI fi rms this represents a quite considerable new business opportunity. Maximum cavity wall and loft insulation are essential

About the author

Andrew Leech Andrew Leech is executive director of the National Home Improvement Council.

elements of the entire energy saving process. Once these are in place, many homes can take full advantage of the renewable energy and smart metering technologies that are bursting onto the domestic market, and which can make a signifi cant impact on household fuel costs and carbon emissions. And installing the connections for renewable energy

systems, such as photovoltaic panels and wind turbines, requires a degree of specialist knowledge and expertise that is second nature to the electrical contracting industry.

Autumn 2010 ECA Today 15

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