Why are we still not making our housing better?

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In its new report released last week, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) warns the UK’s stock of existing houses is unfit for climate change challenges, vulnerable as they are to flooding and water scarcity, cold in winter and overheating in summer. Worryingly, the government has been told this time and again but having scrapped numerous policies and initiatives over the last 15 years or so, there is concern the UK will fail to meet its legally-binding climate change targets.  Without doubt, good insulation is essential if homes and buildings in the UK are to become more energy efficient and sustainable and off-set some of the increasing energy costs and climate change ambitions the country faces.

The Committee report “UK housing: fit for the future? confirms what many of us have been highlighting for many years. The uptake of energy efficiency measures, such as loft and wall insulation, must be accelerated within existing homes while new homes have to be built to be low carbon, energy efficient and climate resilient. It emphasises that getting the design right from the outset is far cheaper than retrofitting later. Also highlighted within the report is a national training programme to close the skills gap in housing design, construction and the installation of new technologies.

This report reiterates many of the messages of which IMA has been very vocal. Chiefly, that cost effective measures to adapt and create high quality, low carbon and resilient homes exist. Furthermore, significant savings can be obtained through better energy efficiency, helping to reduce household bills and tackling fuel poverty. The importance of strengthening energy policy and encouraging households to increase thermal performance by installing better insulation will be an enormous challenge, especially when based on the government’s track record.

From the Code for Sustainable Homes to the Green Deal and Each Home Counts, there has been a range of policies and initiatives to improve the building stock. Some improvements have been made and plenty of our draughty, leaky and profligate homes are better than they were. But we still have many homes that are woefully inadequate, with occupants and owners either unaware or unwilling to understand even the basic energy improvements that could and should be carried out.

The challenge is to dramatically improve all existing houses and other buildings.  We must insulate more and ensure the finished articles perform to the standard intended; this will require a robust and credible inspection process to measure the improvements, to compensate and correct if this has not been achieved; and to determine who will pay for the work and how this will be accomplished.

Unless we have full-blooded government-backed policy that uses legislation and regulation to deliver targets, we will continue to fail and the issue will fall between the cracks. If so, we will be asking the same questions in ten years’ time because the government didn’t make it happen. There is no doubt that bringing existing housing up to an acceptable energy efficiency standard to meet the challenges of the future is difficult, but not to do so is a dereliction of our duty to future generations.

The PIR insulation sector has a crucial part to play in all this, as PIR insulation is thermally far more efficient than most other insulants available and we must continue to use the most appropriate product for the task ahead.  Despite the challenges that we face, including the uncertainty over Brexit, the PIR insulation sector is well poised to help the construction industry deliver better performing buildings both now and in the future and to help the UK achieve the ambitions of our climate change targets.


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