Low carbon domestic refurb projects carried out under the previous government’s £17m Retrofit for the Future programme suffered from poor management and a lack of supply chain support, an independent study published yesterday (December 6) reveals.
The researchers also suggest that contractors carrying out future refurbs – including ECO or Green Deal-funded schemes – should deploy integrated multi-disciplinary teams, or train individuals to be multi-skilled.
The Technology Strategy Board’s retrofit demonstration programme funded carbon-cutting upgrades to 86 social housing low-rise social housing projects in 2009-11. Energy performance targets for the programme were based on an 80% reduction in CO2 from a 1990 baseline.
The research study, carried out by the Institute for Sustainability and UCL Energy Institute, highlighted practical problems faced on 10 homes funded by Retrofit for the Future in the London area.
Within the sample of semi-detached, detached and terraced properties built between the late 19th and late 20th centuries, successful retrofits halved carbon emissions, supported higher internal temperatures and levels of comfort.
However, unsuccessful projects often suffered from a lack of supply chain support, a lack of experienced retrofit practitioners and had difficulty in sourcing products and technologies.
Researchers found that the more integrated project teams were more likely to be successful, implementing better design solutions, and engaging and communicating better with occupants. They were also better at building in learning for the project team.
“Contractors need to look at the way they operate, and become more joined up in their approach, looking at developing multi-disciplinary teams and possibly multi-skilled individuals within teams,” said Stella Okeahialam MBE, programme director at the Institute for Sustainability. “They should liaise early with the architect and, most importantly, the residents or owner of a property to ensure work they do fits in with their needs.”
In addition, engaging with residents to ensure that systems are understood and used effectively should be as much of a priority as using skilled labour, she added.
The study also found evidence of “performance gaps” between the design proposals and the finished project. “There is a dearth of skills in the UK at the moment, and quite a few of the projects had just one expert on board who was having to teach everybody else the fundamentals of installing insulation, or properly planning electrics and plumbing,” said Julian Boss, project manager at the Institute for Sustainability. “When workers are instructed properly they understand the detailing required to make retrofits work, but awareness is very shallow at the moment.”