The need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and to conserve energy has become urgent. There are three things on which almost all climate scientists are now agreed. The first is that manmade climate change is real. The second is that we need to take action. The third is that, to avert catastrophic effects on both humans and ecosystems, we should seek to prevent global temperatures from rising by more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels (Monbiot G., 2006).
Global climate change and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions necessitate decisive and timely action to improve the energy efficiency and performance of housing (Horne, R. and Hayles, C., 2008). The energy used in constructing, occupying and operating buildings represents approximately 50% of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. Emissions from the domestic building stock were responsible for 41.7 million tonnes of carbon (MtC) in 2004 - 27% of total UK carbon emissions (DEFRA, 2006). Domestic energy use represents a large proportion of total national energy use. It has risen from 25% of the UK total in 1970 to 30% in 2001 (Shorrock and Utley, 2003). It is clear that too many existing buildings are environmentally inefficient and do not make best use of limited resources such as energy and water. At present rates of growth, it might take until 2050 before cavity wall insulation is present in all homes for which it is suitable.
Monbiot G. (2006) www.Monbiot.com/archives/2006/09/21/an-87-cut-by-2030 (accessed 24.10.2007).
Horne, R. and Hayles, C. (2008) 'Towards global benchmarking for sustainable homes: an international comparison of the energy performance of housing', Journal of Housing and the Built Environment, 23:119-130.
Defra (2006) 'UK Climate Change Programme'.
Shorrock, L.D. and Utley, J.I. (2003) 'Domestic Energy Fact File 2003' Building Research Establishment, Watford, UK.
Having set ambitious targets to cut the UK's carbon emissions (CO₂) by 60% by the year 2050, the Government has now realised that its original estimate should be revised upwards to 80%. Energy use in homes can account for 27% of the UK's CO₂ emissions and it is this sector where action needs to be taken if a national target of 80% CO₂ reductions by 2050 is to be met.
The energy efficiency of the UK's building stock varies enormously from solid walled properties with electric heating and little insulation through to highly energy efficient homes with their own energy generation. Likewise the market for energy efficiency is complex and highly fragmented. Current funding schemes are dominated by a small number of large players (e.g. energy supply companies), while the delivery of products and services is provided by a very large number of SMEs. Furthermore, the market for energy efficiency and low carbon improvements is also extremely diverse, ranging from DIY products through to major upgrade project management services.
There is also an argument that the current housing market slump means homeowners will stay in their current home for longer. This means they may be more likely to think about energy efficiency improvements to both reduce their own bills in the long-term and to potentially increase the re-sale value of the property.
Upgrading the majority of the UK housing stock by 2050, about 25 million homes in total, is a major challenge, but will create significant business opportunities and potentially tens of thousands of new jobs. The importance of this should not be underestimated in the current economic climate, not least given the stagnation of the new build market. The low carbon retrofit business is estimated to be worth around £3.5bn - £6.5bn per year on top of the £24bn already spent on repair, maintenance and improvement work.
There have been many initiatives to address energy (and environmental) performance in the new-build sector. With the requirement for new homes to be assessed under the Code for Sustainable Homes2 and the planned introduction of requirements to meet specified standards3, there is now a Government plan in place to move towards zero carbon homes in all new-builds by 2016 - and this schedule is even tighter for the affordable housing sector.
Government has set a target of reducing CO2 by 60% by 2050, although most of the stock that will be in place by then is already built. The CO2 reductions required to meet the target can be achieved only with dramatic improvements to existing housing stock.
2. The Code for Sustainable Homes, Setting the standard for sustainability for new homes. CLG Feb 2008. www.communities.gov.uk/publications/planningandbuilding/codesustainabilitystandards
3. The future of the code for sustainable homes - making a rating mandatory: consultation July 2007, Summary of responses. CLG November 2007. www.communities.gov.uk/documents/planningandbuilding/pdf/549499