A new approach to retrofit warranties
Russell Smith describes a new assurance initiative for retrofit schemes.
There are guarantees for insulation. There are warranties for structural failures of refurbished social housing. There are promises about reduced fuel bills. But until recently there has been no comprehensive performance pledge for retrofit that covers all the risks that really matter. However, the Better Retrofit Partnership has now taken some bold steps in this direction.
It started with the growing realisation that a high percentage of retrofit projects are not performing as expected, and worse, are actually increasing the risks to long-term fabric viability and occupant health. Measures that are widely accepted throughout the refurbishment industry consistently have unintended impacts on other areas of fabric and performance.
Building heating, insulation and ventilation cannot be taken in isolation, any more than you can specify what will work in one house based on a similar property half a mile down the road without considering the way each of those buildings is used.
The current chronic failure of retrofit schemes across the country can only be addressed by a wholly new approach: one that is fully integrated across the whole house. It must consider energy, health, fabric, durability, environmental impact and usability together, and in the case of our heritage buildings, it should not compromise their character or structural integrity either.
The Better Retrofit Partnership comprises home energy efficiency consultant Parity Projects, ventilation specialist Aereco, building materials manufacturer Baumit and sustainable materials supplier Natural Building Technologies (NBT). We will work to ensure that we think through design and offer appropriate approaches to retrofit using the evidence established over many years. We’re offering estates managers, social landlords and home owners a process that is fully integrated at every stage, from the initial impartial survey and specification through to post occupancy feedback and monitoring.
The Better Retrofit Partnership has launched the UK’s first comprehensive performance assurance
The partnership is so confident in this approach that we’ve launched what we believe is the UK’s first comprehensive performance assurance, covering the whole house performance of ventilation, thermal insulation, fabric durability and usability and maintenance.
Although we still have to work out all the details, we are convinced this is essential and something the entire retrofit industry needs to be doing. The danger is that some of the cracks appearing in the way retrofit is currently happening are going to seriously damage customer confidence in the whole market. For us this isn’t just about winning business but raising standards and understanding in general. We all need to be aiming for better buildings.
The Better Retrofit Partnership’s performance pledge begins with a comprehensive survey, energy assessment and risk assessment. This allows us to produce a tailored and cost-effective design and specification, which is then delivered by approved installers and tested post-completion through monitoring and feedback. Importantly, the initial survey and sign-off is carried out in an impartial manner which may or may not result in progression with any of the other partners. We will recommend what is appropriate.
“What we are offering is an assurance that you’ll get what you pay for – that the project will perform in the way that we have said.”
Performance is measured using a combination of survey-based modelling and pre and post-completion testing (thermographic and airtightness). Ongoing monitoring and feedback, including internal temperature, relative humidity and occupant surveys, provide additional performance evidence. The methodology and metrics are fully declared, transparent and based upon current best practice and scientific understanding.
An urgent task for us is to work out the period we’ll be measuring effectiveness over. But this is an area where NBT has extensive experience – it is continuing to monitor performance on a number of projects built five or more years ago.
Of course, guaranteeing performance in all of these areas – particularly those that could be said to be subjective such as usability – is complicated and inherently risky, which is no doubt why this hasn’t happened before.
While we are working on the detail, what we are offering now is an assurance that you’ll get what you pay for; that the project will perform in the way that we have said.
As soon as we can our aim is to go even further by securing an insurance-backed guarantee for any retrofit project we undertake, which will give the scheme external validation.
There’s growing awareness among a number of industry bodies that the retrofit sector is a disaster waiting to happen. That before long we will start to see the impacts and costs of having taken a piecemeal approach to refurbishing housing stock which actually has a vital role to play in solving the homes shortage throughout the UK.
We won’t solve the shortage through new build alone. We need to preserve what we have by rendering it fit for the future long term. As the Better Retrofit Partnership we see ourselves as long-term stewards of the housing stock – and we will be doing all we can to bring other collaborators on board.
Russell Smith is managing director of Parity Projects. For more information visit www.betterretrofit.co.uk