Hard to decarbonise social homes

20 July 2022

This report examines why some social homes are harder to decarbonise than others.

For the UK to meet the legal target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, all of our homes, including social homes must be decarbonised. For a home to qualify as ‘decarbonised’, it must be adequately insulated and heated by clean heat technology, typically a heat pump.

NHF members have told us they are concerned about homes that may be especially hard or even impossible to decarbonise. This might be because the measures required are uneconomic, logistically or technically troublesome, or the impact of those measures on residents or others is unacceptable. For a housing association, the only viable option in this case might be to dispose of the property.

Commissioned by the National Housing Federation together with the Local Government Association, this report by Parity Projects explores the characteristics and constraints of the homes that are hardest to decarbonise and how policy changes could help decarbonise more homes.  

This report examines in more detail what decarbonisation means, why some social homes are harder to decarbonise than others and what can be done about this. This includes establishing the scale of hard to decarbonise homes, and where they are located. It explores the characteristics of these homes, and how external constraints, like planning policy, contribute to making homes hard to treat. Finally, it sets out a number of policy changes that could help decarbonise more homes.

Key findings

The research shows that almost all social homes can be decarbonised. Only 2% would be technically hard to decarbonise at present, and we’re confident that new technology and changing regulations will help solve these challenges by 2050.

However, more worrying is the cost of decarbonisation, particularly given recent steep rises in the costs of retrofit and clean heat technology. The research shows that, even with very conservative cost estimates, 5% of social homes will cost more than £20,000 each to decarbonise. Long term public funding will make a vital contribution to decarbonising all social homes.

Regulatory, supply chain and technological barriers add to the costs and hinder decarbonisation of social homes at present, and addressing these barriers will further reduce the number of homes that are hard to decarbonise.

One of the major barriers to decarbonisation for many homes is a lack of clarity in our planning policy and delays and inconsistency in local planning approaches. Addressing these will be vital to long term delivery.

Full report

This report is 46 pages long, available as a PDF.

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Heritage and traditional homes

One of the recurring challenges for housing associations when it comes to decarbonisation is the difficulty of retrofitting heritage and traditional homes. We've rounded up some of the key information and practical guidance for retrofitting heritage and traditional homes.


On 16 September, NHF External Affairs Manager Kevin Garvey spoke to Natalie Turner from the NHF Policy team about the findings of this report.

Watch the webinar.

Who to speak to

Kevin Garvey, Head of Member Relations