by Kerry Tromanhauser

Energy efficiency is one of the most important social topics – in terms of people’s living requirements, rising costs of living and environmental sustainability. The decarbonisation of our homes means that they will operate far more efficiently and have less impact regarding green issues, such as air quality and carbon emissions.

The drive to upgrade private homes is usually the focus of the conversation, but when it comes to retrofitting and installing energy-saving measures, social housing tenants can benefit hugely. This is evidenced by increasing stories of social housing tenants having to choose between heating their home or buying essential necessities, such as groceries.

Goals and standards

There are millions of social housing properties in the UK and the hope is to bring all these homes up to a minimum of Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) Band C by 2030. Over 70% of UK housing stock does not currently meet this standard, including most of the four million homes that make up social housing. Their upgrade will need to be addressed, if the UK is to play its part in the global push against climate change and provide tenants with safe, sustainable homes.

Local authorities, councils and housing associations need strategies to tackle the myriad issues associated with energy efficiency in the social housing sector.

It is estimated that 20% of UK greenhouse emissions come from housing. By 2050, all UK homes are expected to have achieved Net Zero status. This means all properties – whether privately owned/rented or social housing – will need to conform to these goals.

There are several key ways in which properties can be upgraded in order to improve their energy performance and also conserve what energy is generated by the property, thereby helping to decarbonise the environment.

New builds are much more eco-friendly constructions, with many features integrated into their design. But for the social housing sector to create and perpetuate truly sustainable homes, much social housing stock is in need of upgrading, to bring them up to current regulatory standards. This also brings difficult choices on whether to upgrade or to dispose of and replace with new developments. Integrating this into cyclical and responsive repairs programmes is essential to achieve the right outcome for the organisation and its customers.

C.Co supports organisations to undertake alternative service delivery assessments. We have significant experience in conducting detailed options appraisals across a range of organisations. We can help them to determine the optimum way forward to maximise outcomes, quality, productivity and value for money.

Making all the difference to energy efficiency

The introduction of the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) and the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) regarding homes has shone a light on how inefficient many homes are.

Upgrades can be carried out in a number of ways. Adequate insulation is an important factor in ensuring that energy savings are made, and efficiencies introduced; less fuel consumption equals less impact on the environment, while also being more economical for the billpayer.

More often than not, simple measures, such as loft insulation, will have already been installed, as these were innovations in building design decades ago. Aspects such as cavity insulation that is injected into walls are more recent developments and can make all the difference to heat loss and heating system proficiency. For solid walls, insulation can still be added by the construction of an inner or outer layer, though this process can be costly, time-consuming and inconvenient for the tenant. This is further complicated by the issues discovered with cladding that has traditionally been used as a solution for these types of structures.

There are further options where increased heating efficiency can be adapted. Installing the most energy-efficient heating and energy scheme – upgrading from gas, oil or solid fuel to clean energy such as solar power – can make a huge difference to a system’s operation and impact. A simple way to make a heating system run more economically is to ensure the thermostat is in a room that is occupied most. In the past, the old way of thinking sited thermostats in hallways, entrance halls or corridors, where the air is moving, draughts are prevalent, and the air temperature is often unrepresentative of the living spaces of the accommodation. Re-siting the thermostat in the lounge or sitting room for example, rooms that are occupied on a daily basis, but especially in the evening, makes for a more representative and comfortable living temperature.

Another way to improve housing stock’s efficiency is by upgrading windows to double or secondary glazing, and uPVC frames. This will both reduce heat loss and improve ventilation.

Smart Technology

Future developments in the social housing sector require consideration of smart technology. The intention is that this will allow organisations to manage and maintain their assets more effectively whilst, at the same time, empowering residents. For example, there should be major advantages to social housing landlords around asset / homes management, including the ability to install monitoring systems such as leak detectors or smart thermostats for maintenance and environmental issues; fire door safety devices and remote smoke alarm testing to streamline compliance checks; or assisted living sensors to keep in touch with residents. The Internet of Things (IoT) technology should be part of an organisation’s digital transformation plan.

For residents, a smarter home can also improve the experience by regulating bills and helping residents to better understand and control their own home, or by monitoring the atmosphere and appliances for a healthier, safer home.

However, organisations are guided to ensure that the ethical implications surrounding resident interaction with smart technology are managed appropriately, by considering the establishment of appropriate governance for data-driven technologies, and to ensure proper analysis of opportunities, risks, and challenges associated with innovation, data use and privacy.

Cumulatively, these changes can make a big difference to each building’s carbon footprint. As part of a wider drive to address decarbonisation and environmental issues in general, there is no doubt that the ongoing maintenance, renovation and upgrading of social housing stock is going to have to be a key part of the strategy, to create truly sustainable homes.

Our social housing team at C.Co has a proven track record of delivering change, transforming teams and services. Talk to us to find out how we can work with you to help you meet the challenges presented by the drive towards greater energy efficiency.