Karbon Homes' story
For the social housing sector, the pressure of net zero is on. For all homes to achieve an EPC C rating by 2030, and meet net zero carbon by 2050, investment is needed on millions of homes across the country.
The net zero journey for Karbon Homes, a housing association with close to 30,000 homes across the North East and Yorkshire, is both long and winding. However, with a 'route map to 2050' in place to guide, Karbon's confident in its ability to tackle the challenge making significant improvements to the efficiency of its properties and communities, and the lives of its customers. Through 2020/2021, Karbon has invested close to £2.45million in the installation of energy saving measures in its existing homes and managed buildings. Measures have varied from switching to LED lighting in communal areas and fitting smart meters in homes, to the upgrade of inefficient heating systems, installation of cavity wall and loft insulation, and the implementation of renewable energy technologies, including air source heat pumps and solar panels.
Energy efficiency also plays a key role in Karbon's delivery of new build homes. Through a 'fabric first' investment approach to design, specification and methods of construction, the efficiency of the initial fabric of each new home is optimised and then additional measures and technologies are incorporated to proof them for the future. Karbon has entered into a strategic partnership with Homes England and all homes under the programme will meet National Design Guide Principles and incorporate environmental sustainability measures, with at least a quarter built using modern methods of construction, enabling faster construction and a reduction in energy use and waste. The route map doesn't end with the retrofit of Karbon's homes but is taken further through the support and improvements it offers to the communities within which it operates. Karbon's community grants scheme provides financial backing to community projects which support those living in its communities. Where there's evidence of project longevity, funding is available for works to community buildings, which includes environmental and energy efficiency improvements. Karbon also harnesses the social value commitments of its suppliers and contractors and through this, a number of community venues have had support to improve energy efficiency, including loft insulation and new boiler installations. Investment in energy efficiency on this scale, has only been achieved with the support of external funding. Whether it's Homes England grants or ECO3 Funding, external support is crucial in achieving ambitious net zero targets.
Karbon recently were awarded £580,000 in funding from the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund in consortia with Durham and Northumberland County Councils, to provide up to 218 homes with external wall, loft and floor insulation.
Useful learnings from Karbon Homes
Knowing where you are is essential before starting any journey. Karbon is completing surveys of all its existing homes to ensure an accurate understanding of their condition. Using energy management software, Portfolio by Parity Projects, homes are modelled giving energy consumption and energy costs, so that measures needed to improve each property, to meet the targets, can be identified.
Gaining wider support across an organisation is crucial. The project of becoming a sustainable organisation is more than just an asset management responsibility, it's a strategic direction for the organisation and colleagues at all levels, in all roles, play a part in achieving it. Karbon has commitment from the whole business up to board level, ensuring long term plans can be developed and implemented.
Engaging with customers and taking them on the journey is also key. These aren't just assets, these are people's homes, and customers arguably have the greatest stake in us getting those decisions right. It's important that our actions are done for the benefit of them, as decisions made today are likely to affect them long into the future.
Taking customers on the journey has remained a top priority for Karbon, From regular communication about the plans Karbon has to improve energy efficiency of properties and their benefits, through to the collection of feedback and input of ideas through Karbon's resident involvement framework, customers have played an important role in the development of Karbon's route map.
It's also important that organisations keep listening to their customers, as that will help them make better decisions and demonstrate that they can be trusted to act with integrity. The process of engagement and involvement does not end once the work is done. They need to provide residents with the chance to say what they need before, during and after the retrofit process, continuing to offer support once any work is done. That way, customers will feel confident using low-carbon heating technology and that the upgrades and measures are creating real benefit for them.
Future proofing also needs to considered not only through the investment and installation of new technology and methods of construction, but through a 'fabric first' investment approach. Optimising the efficiency of the initial fabric of a home is important, before considering any additional measures.
Often the latter doesn't work effectively without this.
Finally, organisations must ensure they have good data. The scale and complexity of the task requires data to be both accurate and up to date, to ensure that the right decisions are made.
Karbon's annual SHIFT assessment has help to measure data with the most appropriate methodologies, identify improvements based on specialist recommendations and target performance by ranking against other providers and sector goals.It's recommendations for improvement also provide enormous value in helping guide where to focus future investment.
Karbon Homes' metrics
Customer savings (on average £116 a year).
Reduction of carbon footprint of the properties.