Retro Fitting Homes

In light of the raft of measures to boost the economy and safeguard jobs announced by the Chancellor of The Exchequer Rishi Sunak in October 2020, one specific interest to the construction sector included a £3bn green investment package, including retrofitting homes and public buildings, and a boost to housing by scrapping stamp duty on homes worth £500,000 until 31 March 2020 – quadrupling the current exemption level of £125,000.

Just how far these measures will go in securing a longer term sustainable future remains unclear currently but it is a start in the right direction towards kickstarting the building industry towards the 2050 net-zero carbon target.

As specialists of retro-fitting properties we are very pleased to see this. It is often easier to build new than renovating existing structures. We don’t usually replace buildings because they wear out, but because the land they are built on becomes more valuable, or we no longer like the way they look, or we just want something new. However, renovations and upgrades usually save money and they almost always save carbon.

Due to the construction process there are unnoticed effects that have greatly contributed to climate change before a building is even occupied. These include the emissions resulting from manufacturing building products and materials, transporting them to project sites, and the construction. This is referred to as embodied carbon, or more widely known, as the carbon footprint.

According to Bruce King in his book “the New Carbon Architecture”, “re-using buildings is one of the most effective and radical strategies we have for reducing carbon emissions from the built environment. It is effective, because re-using and renovating a structure has a much lower embodied carbon footprint than building a new one and if the renovation includes efficiency upgrades, it can also reduce the existing buildings operating emissions. “ According to Bruce, renovating a building releases somewhere between 50 to 75 percent less carbon than building a new one does. Two sources of emissions can be reduced at the same time, the embodied carbon and also the operating carbon that happens during a buildings’ life, that can be upgraded when renovating to include deep energy efficiency upgrades and renewable clean energy.

Renovation projects have lower embodied emissions than new construction because they typically re-use most of the structure and building envelope. They still have embodied emissions, but we can reduce those even further by for example, reusing the underlying structure as the new interior finish, using salvaged materials instead of new materials, or just replacing synthetic carpet with natural fibre carpets. We can also design new structures and renovations using building components that are removable, cleanable, and able to be refurbished, if further renovations are to take place in the future. If people are able to change their buildings more easily, they may not be as likely to replace them. We can also reuse materials. Bruce King states that “New construction generates three to five pounds per square foot of solid waste, renovation projects can generate 20 to 30 times that much. If we reuse those waste materials instead of discarding them, we save carbon”.

There has never been such an opportunity as this present time for us to build back better and also to preserve the history of our buildings wherever possible aswell as working towards the zero carbon initiative.