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The benefits of retrofitting are abundant – now we need to make them a reality

With aspirations for "a practical, ambitious retrofit strategy", Nationwide say they are ready to deliver | Credit: Alamy

Claire Tracey, Chief Strategy and Sustainability Officer

Claire Tracey, Chief Strategy and Sustainability Officer | Nationwide

4 min read Partner content

Retrofitting has the potential to provide benefits for everyone, but it is often misunderstood and underutilised. To achieve Net Zero by 2050, the Government needs a strategy to change this.

The recent Queen’s speech laid out an ambitious vision: better health for the nation; more protections for the environment; better employment opportunities, regardless of where you live. These are laudable goals but they may prove difficult to achieve in practice.  If the Government works with industry to create an ambitious retrofit strategy, however, that could - in one single step - help the country accomplish all of them.  

What is ‘retrofitting’? – plenty of people still don’t know what it is, or why their home might need it. In essence, ‘retrofitting’ is a series of home improvements that will make it more energy efficient. This ranges from the low-tech (triple-glazing; stone-wool insulation that keeps the heat in) to the thrillingly high-tech: ground source heat pumps that suck the heat from the ground and use it to heat your home. 

The Government has made a series of bold, legally-binding targets to get the UK to Net Zero by 2050. We are making progress to this end - but we’re not moving fast enough. If we want to hit these targets – and create jobs and opportunities in the process – then we need a retrofitting strategy. Britain’s homes are responsible for 15% of the UK’s carbon emissions. They are a major obstacle to hitting our climate goals. 

Getting the builders in can be a daunting process. Retrofitting your home can drastically improve it – but our research suggests that many people simply don’t know where to begin; they don’t know their solar panels from their stone-wool insulation, and they’re daunted by the prospect of financing these changes. 

With the right strategy, the Government could change this. After all, the benefits – for the country and consumers - are huge. Who doesn’t want a warmer home with lower bills? Who doesn’t want to create high quality jobs for young people up and down the country? And who doesn’t want their children to grow up in a country with cleaner air? Retrofitting could be a shortcut to ‘levelling up’. 

Retrofitting is an exciting prospect, and the Government should launch a public information campaign to reflect that.

That’s why we at Nationwide have been convening talks with policy experts, academics, and leaders in many industries to pull together a 7-point plan for a national retrofitting strategy. There were some differences of opinion – the sign of a healthy debate – but we all agreed that there are a few core principles that must guide any retrofit strategy.

Firstly, we need our politicians to show major ambition. We have the opportunity to kickstart a ‘retrofit revolution’ that will transform the nation’s homes and create jobs. It will be expensive. But all political parties must hold their nerve and accept that this will be a long-term endeavour which we must fund consistently – 20 years’ minimum, even if there are changes of Government. It will be an investment in the future, and could make the UK a world leader in green homes.  

Retrofitting is an exciting prospect, and the Government should launch a public information campaign to reflect that. Hammer home the message ‘insulation will cut your bills’; push a Government-branded leaflet through every door setting out how each home could be improved. Make the benefits of retrofitting abundantly clear.  

Moreover, the government must regulate to ensure that consumer protections are high and installation standards are uniform across the board. Whether you’re fitting solar panels or getting double glazing, people need to know that they can trust the process.  

This brings me onto skills. We are currently in a chicken-and-egg situation whereby those working in construction aren’t ready to upskill staff until there is sufficient consumer demand. But, if pro-retrofit policies are introduced without a skilled workforce to execute them, they will fail.  Consider this alongside the fact that young people’s employment prospects have been hit hard by the pandemic. If the Government worked with industry to develop a retrofitting skills strategy this would get young people started in in satisfying, lifelong careers that aren’t concentrated in big cities, whilst helping the UK get to net zero faster.  

There are other challenges to deal with: supplying Britain’s homes with green power; making housing data more widely available so that people can make informed choices; bringing in additional regulations to incentivise the strategy. Financing retrofit investments fairly will be a major consideration, too. We at Nationwide want to help make the nation’s homes greener, which is why we are already offering green additional borrowing products at very low rates – but take-up is not what it needs to be. The Government must accept that some grant incentives will be necessary – and those on lower incomes will need more support. 

Creating a practical, ambitious retrofit strategy will not be easy. But it is necessary. And when the Government is ready to do so, we are here to help make this vision a reality.  

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