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Fabric-first: a way to warmer, cheaper, healthier homes

David Ward, Policy & Public Affairs Advisor

David Ward, Policy & Public Affairs Advisor | ROCKWOOL UK

4 min read Partner content

Boosting energy efficiency can move the UK closer to net zero while keeping household costs down for the long term. That's why we need a fabric-first approach.

In his recent net-zero statement, the Prime Minister kickstarted an important conversation about how the UK gets to net-zero and the costs involved. It’s a debate that will likely define the 2024 general election and far beyond that.

As part of this conversation Mr Sunak announced that rental properties will no longer be required to invest in energy efficiency measures to achieve an EPC rating of C by 2025.

The PM does not want to burden households with extra costs at a time when the cost of living is biting for so many.

However, when it comes to energy efficiency, there’s a pathway to net zero that ultimately saves money. After all, the cheapest energy is the energy you don’t use.  

Fabric-first approach is a money saver

'Fabric-first’ means reducing the loss of heat through the walls, windows, roof and floor that make up the building fabric itself, before considering changes to how energy is supplied to the home. So, for homeowners, it means insulating a house before employing other elements like heat pumps or solar panels.

And while a fabric-first approach does have an upfront cost, it is a pathway to cheaper bills and warmer homes in the long run. Upgrading to an EPC ‘C’ rating from an ‘F’ or ‘G’ could save households around £4,500 per year or more (according to Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group research from 2022).1

Local Authorities are already moving on this as they contend with renovations to their housing stock at scale. Portsmouth City Council’s fabric-first approach to a 1960s block of flats saved their tenants an average of £700 per year – and that was in 2018, before energy bills were at the level they are now.2 In 40% of cases, tenants didn’t put their heating on at all after the renovations, enabling them to cut their overall bills dramatically.3

Neglecting materials could see energy bills increase

Heat pumps and new technology will of course be an important part of decarbonising our homes but, deployed in leaky homes without insulating first they would likely mean higher bills for many.

A heat pump in a draughty home will need to be bigger and work harder than one in a fabric-first home; using more electricity which is three times more expensive than gas. If the same approach were taken en masse, the demand for electricity on the National Grid would skyrocket as well.

As we transition to renewable energy, we don’t need to make the same mistakes we’ve made in the past. We understand how to create warm, healthy homes that are cheaper to run. We know that true energy efficiency will require a combination of reducing demand and decarbonising the supply.   

Looking ahead

So how should the housing sector move forward?

As the Prime Minister said, energy efficiency is “critical to making our homes cheaper to heat”, and there are still funds and initiatives in place that will continue to make progress – namely the Great British Insulation Scheme, ECO4, and the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF). So it’s important the Government presses ahead with its support in these areas.

For example, Government could build on the SHDF to create a much bigger and comprehensive local-authority-delivered insulation scheme.

Looking towards the private sector, an increase in lenders offering green mortgages and low-interest loans, as well as tax incentives like VAT cuts for retrofit, would encourage homeowners to renovate. A network of retrofit hubs could overcome the information barrier which often holds households back from undertaking retrofits.

All the tools are there to realise a fabric-first approach to greening the UK’s housing stock. Government, private sector, and property owners must work together to make it a reality.


1. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/6322eb1857fe565e0c779721/t/6346bdd8667fe1589ecf53b3/1665580514037/CHEAPER_BILLS_WARMER_HOMES.2022.pdf 

2. https://p-cdn.rockwool.com/syssiteassets/rw-uk/downloads/reports/wilmcote-house-retrofit-to-the-rescue-report.pdf?f=20201025062003 

3. Ibid.

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