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Retrofitting for a sustainable future: overcoming challenges to achieve energy efficient housing stock

27 June 2023
David McNeice writes for the Irish News on the topic of retrofitting and how it can achieve energy efficient housing stock.

ACHIEVING true sustainability and raising energy efficiency across housing stock are the two major challenges the housing sector in Northern Ireland is currently facing from a social and economic standpoint.

In addressing this, much consideration is being given to developing energy-efficient new builds and implementing sustainable measures from the outset. Although we are seeing great strides made in procurement across the board, incorporating green clauses and investing in modern methods of construction to ultimately enforce the sector's commitment on tackling environmental issues, looking forward is not even half the battle.

In the UK and Ireland, almost 80 per cent of the structures that will be standing in 2050 have already been constructed. When we consider the fact that over two thirds of Northern Ireland's current housing stock does not meet the established energy efficient targets, we have a lot more to do with the assets that already exist.
In order for Northern Ireland to meet its commitment to achieve net zero, there must be a shift in focus to addressing efficiency in existing buildings. Historic housing stock is not up to current regulation, resulting in high maintenance costs that in turn is detrimental on purchase prices and the sustainability of the built environment sector as a whole.

We must look at retrofitting buildings to tackle this issue. Adding new features to older buildings is a feasible and cost-efficient way to reduce carbon emissions, bring the buildings up to scratch, and preserve their economic viability without having to demolish and rebuild. It also provides a huge social and economic benefit; a warm home is a happy home, and even happier if energy costs can be decreased.

To build the necessary momentum to significantly cut emissions, it is essential that adequate sustainable and green life costs for existing stock are at the forefront of the sector. A strategic approach between the government, housing associations and industry groups will be needed to: develop aligned local and national policies, legislation and regulations; increase awareness of retrofitting options and available funding whilst simultaneously tackling any misconceptions; and upskill builders and developers to ensure that energy and carbon performance is delivered as planned and to standard.
The introduction of PAS 2035 in the UK is a key turning point. DWF has been involved in drafting the legal protocol for this alongside the Retrofit Academy. This protocol sets out the requirement for proper assessment of buildings, with particular regard for the design and implementation of retrofits, ensuring that a whole-house review is undertaken.
Effectively, this not only creates a quality standard but it also ensures there is a case-by-case assessment of buildings, so that the right measures are implemented. This is fundamental to strengthening the built environment sector as it recognises that if retrofitting is done incorrectly or without consideration of the type of building, it could be detrimental.

We must focus on how we overcome the blockers that exist in achieving success in developing a retrofit strategy, whether it be funding, incentivisation, skill shortages or being able to do this meaningfully at scale, but even after we solve this problem, are we going to be beaten by the clock?

The article originally appeared in the Irish News on 26th June 2023.
Click here to view: Retrofitting for a sustainable future: overcoming challenges to achieve energy efficient housing stock - The Irish News

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