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Introduction to Retrofit: Constructing a Sustainable Future

7 March 2024

Are you aware that homes contribute to over a quarter of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions? The inefficiency of our housing stock, which ranks among the oldest in Europe, poses a unique challenge. Rather than resorting to demolition and reconstruction — actions that would only increase fuel consumption — embracing retrofit provides a path to sustainability. Through the process of retrofitting, we have the opportunity to enhance energy efficiency, slash emissions, and circumvent the resource wastage tied to new constructions

We have committed to net zero emissions by 2050, and the residential sector will have a huge impact on our progress. We can use our existing houses as raw material to create new, more comfortable, more energy efficient homes that are affordable to heat, and that preserve the historic character of our cities and towns, as well! To do this, we need to take a well-informed and detailed approach to home retrofit.

Table of Contents

  1. The Fundamentals of Retrofit: What is Retrofit?
  2. The Advantages of Retrofit
  3. Learn more at Peterborough College or Stamford College
  4. Conclusion

What does retrofit mean?

While we retrofit an existing house, we can improve its energy performance. The ‘retro’ in retrofit refers to an old or existing house; the ‘fit’ means fitout. A retrofit is a new fitout for an existing house. ‘Renovate’ is one retrofit synonym; ‘upgrade’ is another. To find out how it’s done, read on!

The Fundamentals: What is Retrofit?

Modern retrofit means looking at the whole house as a system, rather than focusing on individual measures like adding loft insulation or upgrading the boiler.

Whenever we retrofit an existing house, our main goal is to reduce heat loss while keeping the amount of moisture inside – and within the building fabric – at a safe and healthy level. Once the house is easier to heat, we can install a smaller, more efficient heating system that is not fossil fuel based. Finally, we can bring the house closer to net zero by installing a renewable energy system, such as solar panels that generate electricity.

The challenge is in making existing homes retain more heat while preventing issues with damp and mould. Heat escapes from houses through the materials that make up the walls, floors, and roof – and through air leakage, as well. At the same time, removing moist air from inside homes is the only way to prevent issues with damp. So, we need to make houses more air-tight, but we also need to add ventilation that will remove moist air where and when it’s being created: from bathrooms during showers, from the kitchen while meals are being prepared, and from rooms where there is laundry drying on racks, for example.

Initiating the planning process for building retrofits needs a ‘fabric first’ approach. This strategy entails ensuring the presence of an even, airtight insulation layer enveloping the house’s interior and exterior. Often, this involves the addition of insulation across various areas, including the ground floor, walls, and loft.

For example, we might retrofit cavity wall insulation, insulate under a suspended timber floor, top up the loft insulation, and insulate and seal the edges where the ground floor meets the exterior walls, and where the walls meet the edge of the loft. In this way, we’re minimising heat loss both though the building fabric and through air leakage. Of course, once the house is more airtight, it may need better ventilation. Ventilation must always be considered as part of the building fabric upgrade.

The second thing we consider is what they’d call “HVAC upgrade” in North America (it stands for ‘Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning’). Here, we address heating, both space heating and hot water for the taps. Over the next 20 years, we will be replacing boilers with heat pumps. Air source heat pumps are a renewable energy system that can deliver three times the heat they consume in electricity, and they tie space heating to the electrical grid. That means that as more renewable energy is added to the grid, the emissions associated with heating houses will automatically decrease as well.

Adding a renewable home energy system marks the final step towards achieving energy efficiency in homes through retrofitting. For many, this involves installing solar voltaic panels. Yet, rural homes might opt for wind turbines instead. Such renewable energy solutions propel homes towards the goal of net zero energy.

The Advantages of Retrofit

Retrofitting existing houses to make them easier to heat helps us cut energy use and emissions, in line with world-wide targets that are aimed at minimising climate change. But retrofits have many advantages that hit closer to home.

First, there are financial benefits; a full retrofit can easily cut energy bills in half or more. This reduces the risk of fuel poverty. With a home energy efficiency retrofit, it is less likely that a family will have to choose between heating and eating.

In addition, many people who are struggling with energy bills underheat their houses, turn off the ventilation fans, and block the vents. This negatively affects both the building and the people who live in it. Setting the temperature too low raises health risks on its own. However, the risk of mould also increases with underheating. Cold air holds less moisture than warm air, so there will be more condensation and later, a high risk of mould growth. When ventilation is eliminated as well, this multiplies the risks.

A retrofit can also make a house healthier and more comfortable to live in. Improving insulation and air tightness eliminates drafts and makes the temperature more consistent throughout the house. Of course, a cosy, warm house with low energy bills will also be worth more; a retrofit can raise the value of a home as an investment.

Learn More at Stamford and Peterborough Colleges!

When it’s done right, home retrofitting greatly benefits homeowners, renters, and landlords – and it helps keep our planet safe and liveable! But it has not always been done right in the past.

The professionals who make decisions about how to retrofit houses need to understand residential construction, building materials, and sustainable design. A grasp of building physics – the study of how heat and moisture pass between the inside and outside of buildings – is essential. Finally, retrofit professionals must understand the standards and regulations that underlay home retrofits in the UK: most importantly, PAS 2030 and PAS 2035.

That’s why Inspire Education has partnered with Retrofit Academy to offer courses in Retrofit to construction industry professionals – and to people who are new to the industry as well!

Our most advanced course ends with a Retrofit Coordination qualification: a Level 5 Diploma in Retrofit Coordination and Risk Management. It’s intended for construction industry professionals, including experienced Domestic Energy Assessors and Retrofit Assessors (DEAs and RAs), project managers, architects and architectural technologists, and tradespeople with supervisory and retrofit experience. A Retrofit Coordinator is required for every project that has funding that is tied to PAS 2035. It is their responsibility to oversee projects and make sure the right set of energy efficiency measures are installed in the right way.

We also offer a Level 4 Course in Retrofit Assessment that’s open to qualified DEAs. This course covers the additional observations – and the greater technical insight – that’s necessary for a PAS 2035 Retrofit Assessment. It delivers a Retrofit Assessor qualification.

For people who are just starting out in the construction industry and who want a professional retrofit qualification, the role of Retrofit Advisor is a good choice. We are offering a course leading to a Level 3 Award in Domestic Retrofit Advice.

A Level 2 Award in Understanding Retrofit is ideal for people in the construction industry who have not specialised in retrofit but would like to learn more about it. 

To Conclude…

At least eighty percent of the UK houses that exist now will still be in use in 2050. Sustainability in construction is a key issue in meeting our net zero target. To minimise our contribution to climate change, we must make retrofit work for existing homes.

Retrofitting benefits:

It lowers greenhouse gas emissions, and it also lowers heating costs, makes houses healthier and more comfortable, and raises the market value of properties.

A roadmap for energy-efficient retrofitting is laid out in PAS 2035 and PAS 2030, and the construction industry needs to upskill, adding hundreds of thousands of qualified professionals in the new PAS 2035 roles: Retrofit Advisor, Retrofit Assessor, Retrofit Coordinator/Evaluator, and Retrofit Designer. We also need many more Retrofit Installers who can deliver projects according to the guidelines in PAS 2030.

Join this new army of retrofit professionals through the qualification courses at Stamford and Peterborough Colleges and take a leading role in the fight to stop climate change and keep our planet liveable!

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