With energy prices rising, many homeowners are considering ways to make their home more energy efficient. Whether that’s tackling their loft insulation or thinking about how to keep the cost of heating down when they add an extension to their home.

Does the future of your business lie in retrofit?

On a national scale, the UK government has set itself a strict deadline for zero carbon emissions by 2050 – which can’t be done without upgrading the country’s ageing and drafty housing stock to make it greener and more energy efficient. The CITB estimate that 29 million UK homes would need to be brought up to an energy efficient standard to meet the target. It’s thought that a national retrofit strategy would be needed to achieve this, which is something that the FMB campaigns for on behalf of our members.

It's clear that retrofit represents a huge opportunity for small to medium sized (SME) building companies as they are in the best position to deliver retrofit to individual households.

Understanding the retrofit process

So, what does retrofit mean? Retrofit is simply upgrading the fabric of an existing building to help it to meet modern energy efficiency standards.

The process relies on a ‘fabric first’ approach, prioritising the thermal performance of the building’s envelope – the walls, floors, floor, roof and doors. This reduces the energy needed to heat the building and reduces its carbon footprint.

In practical terms, by taking on retrofit work, you’ll get involved with:

  1. Insulating walls, lofts, and floors: Proper insulation can significantly reduce heat loss in winter and heat gain in summer. For retrofit, all thermal bridging points must be addressed.
  2. Fitting energy-efficient windows and doors: Double or triple-glazed windows and well-sealed doors can prevent drafts and improve energy efficiency.
  3. Improving ventilation: For example, installing Mechanical Ventilation Heat Recovery systems (MVHR) in a well-insulated, air-tight building, will bring in fresh, filtered air without letting too much heat escape.
  4. Implementing smart controls: Smart meters for heating systems can use AI to learn when to switch the heating on and give homeowners greater control of their usage.
  5. Installing renewable energy systems: Air source or ground source heat pumps and solar panels as well as less common solutions like wind turbines can generate clean energy and reduce reliance on the rid.

How the jobs are tackled, the materials used, and the order they are completed in can make all the difference. It’s crucial to realise that retrofit measures won’t necessarily be successful without taking a ‘whole house’ approach. You will need to learn how all the different elements of the home’s fabric interact with each other, being aware that adding energy efficiency measures in one part of the building may cause a knock-on effect elsewhere. For instance, you might insulate the walls only to find it leads to condensation and damp.

Why retrofit assessments are important

To provide guidance to both the homeowner and builder, it’s important for the owner to get a retrofit assessor in to survey the property. Retrofit surveys cost a few hundred pounds (depending on the size of the house and the location) and provide the owners with a checklist of the retrofit measures needed to bring their property up to an energy efficient standard.

The survey lists what order to tackle the jobs in – and the assessor will have carefully considered what effect each will have on the building to avoid issues like condensation. It will also list a rough cost and an idea of the saving that the job will bring, so the owners can decide to tackle it a step at a time.

PAS 2035 PAS 2035

PAS 2035 is a set of standards on retrofit in homes and buildings that has been set by the British Standards Institution (BSI). PAS simply stands for ‘Publicly Available Specification’. It covers a wide range of energy efficiency measures, including insulation, glazing, doors, boilers, and lighting. It also sets out requirements for quality management, installer competence, and product performance.

You aren’t obligated to use PAS 2035 standards for private retrofit projects, but retrofit assessors will typically work to PAS 2035 in their recommendations.

Passivhaus Passivhaus

Passivhaus (aso referred to as 'Passive house') is a building design philosophy that aims to create ultra-low energy homes. Developed in Germany in the 1980’s it has become increasingly popular around the world. It’s a meticulous whole house retrofit process the outcome of which can be Passivhaus certification for the building if it complies with strict test criteria including an airtightness test amongst other temperature control criteria.

While full Passivhaus retrofits may not be feasible for all homes, incorporating Passivhaus principles, such as high levels of insulation and controlled ventilation, can significantly improve energy efficiency.

Upskill your team – where to start

To make the most of the opportunity that retrofit offers for your business, you’ll need to make sure both you and your team have the skills and knowledge needed.

To get some training under your belt, here are two great places to start:

  • Retrofit Academy - Offering online courses and qualifications on topics such as domestic retrofit, retrofit coordination and energy efficiency for older and traditional buildings, with PAS 2035 in mind.
  • The Green Register – Running a ‘Futureproof Essentials’ training package for whole house retrofit, along with regular virtual and in-person events on topics such as including achieving airtightness and insulating solid stone walls.

Explaining retrofit to your clients

The main hurdle when speaking to clients about retrofit, is that most will have never heard of the phrase ‘retrofit’. This is changing slowly, with climate change in the news and the focus on energy efficiency in the home in the media on home building and renovation shows on TV.

Clients might ask about installing a heat pump, but they might not have considered the measures needed to ensure their home is ready for one. Suggesting a retrofit assessment may help to demonstrate the steps needed to make sure their home is well insulated and ready to retain the energy that a heat pump provides.

Retrofitting the average family home is also a significant investment, so it can be a hard sell. However, if your clients are intending to stay in their home for a number of years, they will be able to reap the reward of energy savings over time. If they plan on selling sooner rather than later, there’s a potential benefit of an increased selling price – research by estate agent Knight Frank analysed 30,000 properties and the findings showed that moving from an EPC rating of F or G to a rating of C could increase housing prices by 19.6%.

Look for opportunities

Once you have the skills, how do you find retrofit work? It could be as simple as raising the issue of energy efficiency with prospective or current clients. Or you may want to include messaging about energy efficiency and retrofit in your marketing materials (we have free marketing guides on building a brand and social media which may help).

One quick way to add retrofit to your business repertoire if you are an FMB member is to log in and send us a request to add Retrofit and Energy Efficiency to your list of trades.

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