Why Retrofit feels like Climbing Everest

Vicky Fordham-Lewis, Managing Director of Osborne Property Services, shares her observations of how landlord teams speak about the enormous and often overwhelming challenge in retrofitting their housing stock. Vicky shares some suggestions to allay some of those fears and help make those first steps towards those Zero Carbon goals.

I hear social landlord teams describe the confusing task to zero carbon in all sorts of ways, but in my mind they all align to one analogy – It feels as daunting as climbing Everest.

If you have a mountain to climb you begin with two certainties; where you’re starting from (the bottom) and where you want to end up (the summit). It’s how well you plan what happens between the two that determines how efficiently you get to the top. Or, whether you get there at all! Preparing for zero carbon retrofitting in my mind is no different.

The most efficient route to the objective must be carefully planned – along with the supply of equipment, expertise and labour that will be needed. What will determine a successful outcome? And what steps should owners and operators of social housing be taking right now?

Experienced climbers very rarely ever try to climb the big mountains without a large team of specialists and experienced guides. Nor should property landlords attempt Zero Carbon Retrofit programmes without that same level of trusted support.

One significant issue with zero carbon retrofits is that we don’t yet know where the base camp is located. It is important to understand, in detail, where your housing stock currently sits in terms of energy performance and the viability of different retrofit and renewable energy options.

When we truly understand where we’re striking out from, we can start planning the route to the top. This is also the point where the supply chain needs to be engaged and organised. To return to my mountaineering analogy, you don’t want to be faced with an ice wall halfway up only to find that somebody forgot to bring the crampons.

It may even be that the most direct route isn’t the best overall. Fuel poverty is a reality for many social housing tenants. So the way that retrofit actions are planned and scheduled has the potential to make a significant difference to people’s lives from a relatively early stage. Ensuring residents are engaged in the process and enthusiastic about the outcome is a critical objective – and a highly challenging one! Demonstrating some quick wins in terms of reduced energy bills will be an important consideration in some retrofit plans to bring people along early in the implementation.

The other crucial factor is understanding the difference between theoretical energy performance and what happens in a real home occupied by real people. The results of this will influence future zero carbon interventions and will provide valuable insights into other activities such as training, procurement and resident education concerning energy saving and efficiency.

So, where to start? Perhaps it’s with understanding that zero carbon retrofit is a multi-phase, team challenge that involves many specialisms and diverse expertise. This when the endeavour starts to feel less like climbing Everest and more like just another complex, but deliverable, set of projects.

We are here to help and be your guide. For more information visit Osborne Retrofit resource centre or contact Nick Davidge (nick.davidge@osborne.co.uk).