Approximately 28% of UK emissions of CO2 are from space heating, water
heating and cooking in places people live (see Twenty-five million
whole-house makeovers will match the Government’s global warming goals). One
of the quickest and cheapest ways to cut UK emissions of CO2 is to
cut emissions from these sources. The greening of electricity supplies is also
important but is probably best treated as a separate issue.
It has been suggested that much of the UK housing stock is beyond redemption
and that it should be demolished and replaced (see Call to demolish
polluting homes). We believe that the main alternative policy,
'eco-renovation', has not been properly explored and that wholesale demolition
and rebuilding has several disadvantages:
- The practical difficulties of replacing enough of the UK's housing stock
to make a significant impact on CO2 emissions.
- High costs.
- Loss of the 'embodied energy' of existing buildings.
- Social disruption: demolition of houses may also demolish the social
structures that have grown up around them.
- Loss of heritage.
Given the use of high levels of insulation, ventilation via heat exchangers,
and some other techniques, it is feasible to create housing with zero net
emissions of CO2 (see Passive House Institute and PassivHausUK). Clearly, this
is easier to do with a newly-built house but we believe it is possible to go a
long way down this road by upgrading existing buildings (see, for example, A passivhaus renovation: heritage meets energy efficiency, A passivhouse (passive house) renovation?). Germany has already introduced a large-scale programme of eco-renovation to bring existing buildings up to the passivhaus standard.
Some attempts have been made or are being made to go in that direction:
but we believe much more needs to be done to explore what is feasible to do, to
develop new techniques, to see what snags there may be and to assess the costs
of different options. We need to be much more ambitious than simply providing cavity-wall insulation and loft insulation.
In particular, we see the need for several 'demonstrators'.
Each of these would be an 'ordinary' home of a particular kind (Victorian
terrace house, '60s bungalow, flat in a tower block, etc) and each one would be
upgraded as far as possible towards the goal of achieving zero net emissions of
CO2. There might still be a need for a small amount of
heating but, if this was provided from some 'green' source (such as bio-fuels or
ground-source heat pump run on green electricity) then it should be possible
to achieve zero net emissions of CO2.
Since there is clear commercial potential in the zero-carbon eco-renovation of the UK's stock of buildings, it is possible that companies like B & Q may be willing to promote and pay for the demonstrator projects mentioned above.
Upgrading the UK's stock of buildings will cost money and we must be prepared to spend it. We should remember that, amongst other things, the Stern Report concluded that the economic benefits of strong, early action to combat climate change considerably outweigh the costs.
A generous framework of incentives will be needed to encourage householders and others to do what is required.
One way to raise awareness of these issues and drive things forward would be
to organise a competition, open to anyone with an 'ordinary' house or flat:
- This would be relatively easy and cheap to organise and could generate a
lot of publicity.
- The challenge would be to reduce CO2 emissions to as near zero
as possible. For any particular category of home (Victorian terrace house,
'60s bungalow etc) the winner would be the home that comes nearest to
achieving zero CO2 emissions. If there was more than one that
achieved zero net emissions, then the winner would be whoever had done the job
at lowest cost.
- Prizes as small as £1000 could be enough to motivate people. The main motive
would be meeting the challenge and the kudos of winning.
- It would be best if the competition were run by some such organisation as Friends of the Earth since the media are
likely to pay attention to what they do.
- The competition would be very useful publicity for the organisation itself
and could bring in many new members.
- The competition would help to highlight what the Government needs to do to
encourage zero-carbon eco-renovation of UK homes on a large-scale.
- The competition could be the subject of a TV programme or series of
programmes along similar lines to our proposal for a TV
series about zero-carbon eco-renovation.
- As mentioned in connection with demonstrators, companies with a commercial interest in zero-carbon eco-renovation may be willing to provide sponsorship.
- Plumbers unprepared for move to energy-efficient homes, report warns (The Guardian, 2012-01-12).
- Warmer UK homes 'would save thousands of lives' (The Guardian, 2011-05-12).
- Efficiency could cut world energy use over 70 per cent (New Scientist, 2011-01-26). See also Reducing energy demand: what are the practical limits? (report by Jonathan M. Cullen, Julian M. Allwood, and Edward H. Borgstein ofthe Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge).
- Building an energy future (RenewableEnergyWorld.com, 2010-04-08). Europe-wide plans for 'deep' eco-renovation of existing buildings.
- Energy efficiency 'best way to beat fuel poverty' (The Scotsman, 2010-03-15).
- Supermarkets to offer 'green energy makeovers' (Daily Telegraph, 2010-03-02).
- Vacuum insulation panels
- Vacuum panels simplify renovation (European Commission).
- Weatherization Assistance Program (US Department of Energy).
- Energy experts to visit every home to help them go green (Daily Telegraph, 2009-02-12).
- Green energy package for homes revealed (Financial Times, 2009-02-13).
- Quarter of UK homes to be offered a green makeover (The Guardian, 2009-02-09)
- 10,000 jobs to be created by insulating homes (The Guardian, 2008-11-24)
- Miliband's blueprint for greener homes (The Independent, 2008-10-19). The report from the UK Green Building Council that is referred to in this news report may be downloaded via a link from "Low carbon existing homes".
- Making houses built during the last crash more energy efficient (CarbonFree, 2008-10-16).
- Low carbon existing homes report has Inbuilt support (CarbonFree, 2008-10-16).
- CarbonFree report: "Zero and low emission buildings"
- Brand new 1930s house is built to test energy efficiency (The Guardian, 2008-04-21)
- Passive house retrofit: taking it easy (RenewableEnergyWorld.com)
- Presentations at Innovations for the Built Environment, Earls Court, London, 3-5 March, 2009. To access the presentations, enter the password 'green'.
- Refurbishing the Existing Housing Stock by Paul Ruyssevelt (PDF).
- Home truths: a low carbon strategy to reduce UK housing emissions by 89% (PDF, 2.2 MB, Environmental Change Institute, November 2007).
- Old Home SuperHome project from the Sustainable Energy Academy
- Parity Projects
- Ecovation (not yet running on 2007-10-24).