Energy efficiency: bringing the focus back to the existing housing stock

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This graph, from the UK Green Building Council, is a good reminder of the challenges that face us.

The graph gives a rough indication of the current greenhouse gas emissions from the UK built environment from 1990 to today and then indicates the challenge of achieving an 80% reduction by 2050.

The graph and methodology can be downloaded here.

It’s the purple swathe – the domestic housing stock – at the bottom that stands out. It’s got to fall from 180m tonnes CO2 equivalent to 50m tonnes CO2 equivalent between now and 2050 to meet the target.

Given that the current housing stock is likely to dominate the housing stock in 2050 (see ECI data below) then the single most important factor in reducing carbon emissions in the UK’s built environment is going to be our effectiveness in refurbishing where we live now.

Energy-efficient new build is fine, and important and sometimes glamorous, but it’s not where the bulk of the work needs to be done. The existing housing stock needs to use less energy, and use what it does use more efficiently.

And this is where Kevin McCloud pops up – yet again! – with his refurbishment campaign, the Great British Refurb.

Moving on, the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford provides some sobering context.

These are excerpts from 40% House which was published in 2005. You can download the full report: it’s worth reading.

The main challenge in working towards a 60% reduction in carbon emissions from the residential sector is the poor state of the existing housing stock.

Over two-thirds of the 2050 housing stock has already been built, highlighting the importance of refurbishment of these dwellings.

There were 25 million homes in the UK in 2003, making up one of the oldest and least efficient housing stocks in Europe. The poor quality of the building fabric across the whole stock means that space heating accounts for roughly 60% of total delivered residential energy demand.

In 2003 there were an estimated 17 million homes with cavity walls, of which 11 million were uninsulated.

[In 2009 the National Insulation Association estimated that 9m homes with cavity walls had not been insulated]

Another 7 million dwellings have solid walls, almost all of which are uninsulated, as solid wall insulation is a costly, disruptive measure resulting in slightly reduced room sizes (if the wall is insulated on the inside) or a changed facade (if the insulation is clad on the outside).

Five years is a long time and improvements have been made, but the fundamental picture remains unchanged. Use less energy. Use it more efficiently.

I can also recommend one of our earlier posts: Engineering a low carbon built environment.

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