Insulate our homes

People Powered Retrofit (Greater Manchester)
Britain’s leaky homes make the energy crisis worse. Our country has some of the oldest and least well-insulated housing stock in western Europe, ensuring that we lose heat through walls, windows and doors quickly after turning off the radiators.

The good news is that everything we do to insulate our homes and make them more comfortable to live in not only cuts expensive energy bills but also reduces the impact of our homes on the environment.
And that’s important too, because more than a fifth of the UK’s total carbon emissions come from the houses we live in, and it’s increasing.

The challenge of insulating our homes is twofold: ‘retrofitting’ many millions of existing, ageing buildings (which account for 70% of housing emissions) and insisting that all the new homes we build are zero carbon. The industry-wide UKGBC’s Net Zero Whole Life Carbon Roadmap for the UK Built Environment spells out the actions government and industry must take to achieve net zero across the housing sector, but we have to act much faster in changing our current course. Already, the UK Green Building Council says that over 100 homes per hour will need to be retrofitted to achieve the UK government’s commitment to net zero by 2050.

It seems obvious, but we really have to stop building homes now that will need retrofitting almost immediately! Comfortable zero carbon homes are an achievable house-building standard, according to Ashden, minimising energy use and using renewable energy supplies. Yet the UK’s national building regulations still do not require new homes to be zero carbon. Local councils can set their own local planning requirements that demand it, but only a few, like Reading and York, have done so.

Low-income households living in fuel poverty need massive support to retrofit their homes, which is increasingly being addressed by numerous central and local government schemes such as North-East Derbyshire District Council’s programme to install external wall insulation in social housing in its ex-mining communities.

However, even those who can afford to retrofit their own homes may need practical help. Carbon Co-op and URBED have developed and piloted People Powered Retrofit, a householder-led retrofit One-Stop-Shop in Manchester. They support homeowners who are able to pay for retrofitting, because there is currently very little provision to serve this large sector.

What can you do? Find other local householders who are interested in retrofitting their homes and share ideas about how to work on a group of houses together. It should reduce your costs, and you may need help from your neighbours to stay somewhere else while the work is done!
Wall insulation, Erik Mclean Wall insulation, Erik Mclean
Start something new…

The Forest of Dean, Cotswold and West Oxfordshire District Councils are offering a Net Zero Carbon Toolkit free to individuals, businesses and communities, explaining how to achieve net zero by fixing our leaky homes – both new builds and retrofits.

How about talking to your parish, town or district council about running an information campaign to get energy efficiency information out to residents in your community? Most district (or equivalent) councils now employ a sustainability officer whose goal is to reduce carbon emissions and energy use in their area, and are pleased for all the help they can get to do this.

Want to see more? Check out the initiatives people have shared about our built environment.

… or join an existing community project:

Many Transition Towns include groups working on energy projects, including energy efficiency. Transition Stroud, for example, has run annual ‘Open Homes’ weekends where homeowners share their practical experiences of making their homes energy efficient and low carbon to help those who’d like to do the same. Find out if your town is a Transition Town.

Transition Streets Totnes is an inspiring project bringing neighbours together to help each other examine how they use energy, water, resources, food and transport. By working together, they can plan how to make their lifestyles more sustainable, reduce living costs and enhance community spirit in the process. Transition Streets Totnes would like to hear from any other street that’d like to try this where they live.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to be an expert in sustainability: a whole range of skills is needed to guarantee the success of projects like these and it’ll also be possible to learn as you go.

Other related community actions: Build homes better, Install low-carbon heating

What do we mean by community action?
23 community actions