How retrofitting homes can reduce both residents’ energy bills and carbon emissions

Kate Henderson, 20 August 2021

On 9 August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change – published a landmark report concluding that human activity is unequivocally to blame for global warming and some changes, such as sea level rises, are irreversible.

The IPCC report is stark, but there is still an opportunity to prevent some of the more severe impacts of climate change and the social housing sector has a hugely important role to play.

That week was also my first visit to a National Housing Federation member since March 2020 and it is no coincidence that I prioritised visiting a project focused on tackling climate change. 

Spending the day in Leicester with Elizabeth Froude, Chief Executive of Platform Housing Group and chair of our new Sustainability Strategy Group, I got to see first-hand some of the opportunities and complexities involved with retrofitting existing social homes in a high-rise building. 

We visited De Montfort House, which is a 16 story solid concrete building with 272 homes that was built in 1982. Platform Housing Group are in the process of undertaking a major heating upgrade of the building, removing inefficient old storage heaters and replacing them with a new integrated combined heat and power (CHP) system. This will save 380 tonnes of carbon a year.

The initial driver for the project wasn’t only tackling climate change, it was also tackling fuel poverty and the great thing about this project is that, when complete, it will help achieve both goals. Replacing the old heating system with a much more efficient CHP system will generate an average saving for residents of 40% on their fuel costs and reduce CO2 emissions at the same time.

What’s less obvious from a scheme like this are the other benefits. As part of this project Platform have developed an innovative app and an education programme. For residents, this provides an opportunity to better manage their fuel bills as well as an opportunity to expand their knowledge about sustainability with online learning models about fuel debt and renewable technologies in the home. 

My other key takeaways from the visit are that these projects are complex and take time and that while my social media photos of new boilers and radiators may not at first glance be especially eye-catching, the investment in these changes has the potential to make a real difference to residents’ bills and to tackling climate change.

The work at Platform are doing at De Montfort House is a great example of the contribution housing associations can make to meeting the government’s climate change objectives. 

The government has a huge opportunity to support the sector in delivering many more of these projects. That’s why we’re urging the government to bring forward the £3.8bn manifesto commitment for a Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund at the upcoming spending review.

Climate change and sustainability

Decarbonising Britain’s homes is not only an essential part of tackling climate change, it also saves residents money, helps combat fuel poverty, boosts the economy and creates jobs. To to support the sector on the journey to net zero, the NHF has begun a major new project on decarbonisation.