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Tackling the enormity of a national retrofit

Russell Smith argues the case for the National Retrofit Strategy to mitigate carbon emissions in UK housing.

When you look at the facts you understand the importance of addressing the energy efficiency of UK housing: our homes use around 35 per cent of all the energy on the grid and emit around 20 per cent of the carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change. 

Furthermore, over 80 per cent of those existing homes will still be standing and be occupied in 2050. Building 250,000 new homes a year only adds one per cent per year to the stock and reduces domestic emissions by 0.3 per cent. Simply building new zero-carbon homes will not get us close to the target; our 28 million existing homes must be made greener. 

Simply building new zero-carbon homes will not get us close to the target

When you consider these facts against the government’s most recent announcement to upgrade as many homes as possible to Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) C by 2035, reduce our carbon emissions by 68 per cent (based on 1990) and be net carbon zero by 2050, you can see the importance of getting this right. The defunct Green Homes Grant was the government’s first bid but even with the time extension, this would have been a drop in the ocean. We need to be moving faster and harder. 

Systematic approach

The National Retrofit Strategy sets out the case for the government to invest and create a long-term policy framework to meet its statutory carbon targets, working in partnership with industry, finance, and other community-based bodies. While we as an industry can deliver the strategy, the government’s involvement is imperative for critical elements and for instilling confidence in the market. 

The Building Passport will outline all the work required for a property to become net zero

The systematic approach suggested in the strategy is practical. Like RetrofitWorks’ Plan For Every Home, the suggested Building Passport will outline all the work required for a property to become net zero. This sets clear goals for homeowners and trades, makes budgets clearer and minimises disruptions. The strategy states that we need 500,000 new professionals and tradespeople to tackle this challenge.

The government has already backed training for retrofit coordinators and retrofit installers, and the creation of the Green Jobs Taskforce is working on setting the direction for the job market in line with the government target for a high-skill, low-carbon economy. 

RetrofitWorks has already calculated that we need 35,000 retrofit coordinators to oversee the required works. This is just one example of the opportunity the sector has for the redirection of skills into good-quality green jobs and secured employment.

This broadening and deepening activity in energy efficiency and decarbonised systems offers sustainable growth and concurrently achieves significant policy goals as a result. 

We have been campaigning for a plan that will address this massive task since RetrofitWorks was formed in 2014. We are looking forward to working further with the Construction Leadership Council, the Federation of Master Builders and other supporters of this strategy, to determine how the government can adopt the strategy’s recommendations and move forward to create greener and better homes through retrofit.


Russell Smith is founder and MD of RetrofitWorks, a not-for-profit cooperative that offers an easily adopted model for improving the UK’s housing stock through greener, economically sound solutions to fight the climate crisis.