Improving the energy efficiency of our homes

The Environmental Audit Committee has published the findings of its latest inquiry into the energy efficiency of existing homes, concluding that improving energy efficiency provides a huge opportunity to develop supply chains, provide jobs across the UK and reach net zero by 2050. We take a look at the challenges of retrofitting the UK's existing housing stock, and what can be done to help deliver a retrofit programme on a national scale.

Felicity Handley

Public Affairs Officer

Last updated: 25th March 2021

On Monday (22 March), the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) published the findings of its inquiry into the energy efficiency of existing homes.

The report concludes that “improving the energy efficiency of all homes provides a huge opportunity to develop supply chains and provide jobs across the UK for all levels and skills, helping to deliver the Government’s levelling-up agenda and a sustainable post-covid recovery.”

The construction industry has a crucial role to play in supporting a clean, fair and sustainable recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, and the CIOB has been working actively with policymakers across the UK to how this can be achieved.

We responded to the EAC’s inquiry and were pleased to see that our evidence was reflected in the final report. Notably, the Committee found that:

There is a chronic shortage of skills in the domestic retrofit sector. This has been exacerbated by stop-start policy, which has eroded industry and client confidence and prevented much needed investment in green construction skills.

Failure to improve the energy efficiency our existing housing stock is putting our net zero target at risk. The EAC finds that in England alone, over 10 million owner-occupied homes will need to be upgraded to reach EPC Band C or above by 2035 if the Government is to achieve its climate goals. Despite this, the Chancellor missed an opportunity to address this challenge in his latest Budget statement, where no mention was made of energy efficiency.

The industry needs certainty on the future direction of travel. The Heat and Buildings Strategy must be published urgently, and the Green Homes Grant scheme must be overhauled, to repair the trust of the homeowners and tradespeople in green initiatives and to give industry the time and confidence to upskill.

The Government must develop a range of financial incentives to address the cost barriers of retrofit and help homeowners and landlords to improve the efficiency of their properties. This will mean considering existing proposals such as VAT reduction and stamp duty rebates, as well as working with the private sector to develop more innovative funding mechanisms.In Germany, for example, the Government has introduced highly successful state-funded low interest loans to support homeowners on a large scale.

The Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution and its dedication to ‘greener buildings’ is a positive step towards recognising the importance of decarbonising our built environment. However, looking forward, an enduring roadmap is needed to decisively tackle the climate emergency.

Historically, unstable and piecemeal policy has impeded confidence of the sector and the resilience of its supply chain and reinforced a lowest-cost procurement model which leaves no room for social value. While initiatives such as the Green Homes Grant are welcome, its failure in practice risks doing irreparable damage to consumer and industry faith in the viability of retrofit as a net zero strategy.  

To address these challenges, the CIOB is calling on the Government to work in partnership with industry to implement the Construction Leadership Council’s (CLC) National Retrofit Strategy. This will provide a long-term policy framework to help meet our net zero obligations and give construction businesses the certainty they need to invest in stable, green jobs beyond 2022.

This strategy includes the CIOB’s ‘Help to Fix’ loan scheme proposal, which would provide Government-backed low-cost loans to households, allowing them to improve the general state of repair of their homes based on a requirement that energy efficiency be improved at the same time.

Find out more about the National Retrofit Strategy and Help to Fix here.

For more information and to let us know your thoughts, get in touch at [email protected].