Make room for the little people

Close inspection of the Green Deal suggests it is firmly targeted just at big commercial firms. But there are niche opportunities if you look for them

In 1865 economist William Jevons, observing exponential increases in coal use after James Watt’s improved steam engine design, conjectured that technological progress that makes a resource more efficient leads people to use more of it. It’s a paradox that has been used to argue that energy conservation is futile. With the Green Deal framework due to be in place this October and £10 billion of finance expected to be available from January 2013, in the push to achieve a zero carbon 2050, let’s hope the Jevons paradox doesn’t apply. 

Of course, Jevons didn’t have to consider increasingly scarce resources driving up energy prices, or that political intervention might modify society’s behavioural patterns, with a knock-on effect on the free market economy; but we do. Next January the UK will embark on a national programme of government endorsed retrofitting, the scale of which would leave even the great Victorian architects and engineers reeling. For wholly different reasons, it might have the same effect on modern day professionals, since in the push to bring the Green Deal to the marketplace, the people best positioned to independently advise and benefit commercially from it are sidelined in favour of larger, corporate, but more readily client-facing commercial organisations. In the white heat of carbon emission cutting, architects and engineers are being left out in the cold.

It’s not that the potential isn’t there. The Technology Strategy Board’s (TSB) Institute for Sustainability recently published Managing Low Carbon Retrofit Projects, which identifies the ‘project co-ordinator’– a shoo-in for an architect; a role giving impartial advice, leadership acting as intermediary between parties. The report highlights the potential  need for Building Regs approval for issues like  internal ventilation and interstitial condensation, as well as strategic advice regarding legislation like the Party Wall Act – all within the architect’s remit. But it hints at the competition that’s out there, stating that ‘conventional’ approaches of issuing GA drawings and typical details ‘can be unwieldy at best on retrofit projects... unhelpful... and expensive’. It advises brevity, with information ‘as concise as possible, relying on annotated drawings with specification clauses written on them’. In their possible role as a Green Deal advisor/project co-ordinator, the report expressly highlights time and expense as concerns that architects should be aware of when  proffering Green Deal services.

 

Keep it simple

This should come as no surprise. The government’s position has always been to ensure that the Green Deal has maximum market exposure. Ian Meikle, TSB’s head of low impact buildings programme, while talking about establishing levels of client trust and a role for the architect in assessment and co-ordination, makes no secret of the fact that ‘the methods of surveying need to be kept simple’ and ‘the actual retrofit itself is the industrial part of the process, requiring ‘roll-out’ solutions, co-ordination of works and warranties’. The Green Deal Finance Company, which will bankroll the retrofit programme, includes energy firms E.ON, EDF and British Gas, investment banks like Goldman Sachs and HSBC and B+Q parent Kingfisher. From this, it’s clear the government is favouring generic, roll-out solutions to access the finance most easily; hell, you might even get Nectar points.

This aspect concerns Bill Gething of the RIBA’s Sustainable Futures Working Group, as while these organisations can facilitate and have great commercial interests in spearheading mass roll-out, it may not be in the individual householder’s best interest. His view is that: ‘The Green Deal is really aimed at big companies who will offer packages to the householder based on a fixed-price initial consultancy with a focus on securing the actual retrofit commission. My concern is that the way the figures stack up and the project is financed, it will just involve standard solutions.’ He emphasises that the householder is the one that has to stump up the £200-400 for the initial assessment, which could be an issue. The impartial advice of a certified Green Deal assessor architect ideally offers a bespoke, staged, economic solution for the householder, but they’ll still have to take that assessment to a Green Deal provider anyway to get a quote. 


Valuable advice

The likes of B+Q might already have their foot in the door and offer the assessment for free if you use them as your retrofit installer, so it’s easy to see that a householder would cut out the middleman architect and opt for the one-stop-shop Green Deal provider. Gething bemoans this. ‘Architects offer their advice as part of a holistic package of improvement to the home environment – that’s something that Green Deal advisors, who will be little more than sales people for the companies they represent, just won’t offer.’ So while the Green Deal requires a Chinese wall between advisor and provider, in practice it will probably be nothing more than a shoji screen.

Matters are not helped by the payment protocols which do not favour the small firm. Russell Smith, director at Parity Projects, an eco-consultant to the residential sector, explains: ‘Green Deal providers will not lend money for the works until the job completion certificates are received. If you are a contractor that has carried out preliminary works and spent two months on a domestic project, you could wait 4-5 months to be paid.’ This cashflow issue biases in favour of the big players. 

In the battle for the domestic retrofit market however, architects might be down but they’re not out. Along with others, Smith has been pulling together the ‘Green Deal Conduit’, a business plan for a new organisation that is trying to build a network of SMEs that assess and refurbish buildings. Backing this are trade associations and institutions who are trying to ensure their members have control over the delivery of their products to the market rather than being ‘at the tail end of the supply chain’.

‘Homeowners want more than just a choice of high street brands’, he says. ‘We are trying to establish a co-operative of smaller firms to provide Green Deal services – a network of locally focused advisers and contractors.’ Smith’s argument is that while the Green Deal is geared for larger businesses, it is only through working together that small--er firms can fight for a slice of the retrofit pie. Its flexibility is in offering ‘trigger points in the life of a building, such as when an extension is being built or a boiler moved or installed, to offer the Green Deal to customers when they are already doing work on their home.’ All they need now is the Green Deal providers prepared to use smaller, local practitioners to carry out the works.

 

Financial advantage

Failing that, there are always Green Deal works on period properties – one-off conservation projects that generic Green Deal installers wouldn’t find financially attractive. And those on the Register of Conservation Architects might finally see a reason for having paid to go on it. Architect Dr Jeremy Harrall of SEarch has been working on such projects, although he’s used the opportunity to develop his ‘Greening the Box’ (GTB) concept. This involves future-proofing homes via ‘adaptation’ to a level well in advance of any Green Deal assessment, most recently applied to the retrofitting of a 200-year-old home in High Wycombe (see box page 63). Adaptation is invasive – elevations can be radically altered to take account of orientation, and rigid insulation is used externally and detailed obsessively for air tightness. He thinks the Green Deal doesn’t go far enough. ‘Ultimately it’s set its sights low. It’s merely fulfilling BRE-prescribed solutions, which still promote fossil fuels and mechanical devices, from gas boilers to extraction fans, heat exchangers to ground source technologies – I’d say why install them in the first place? It’s a view that’s getting credence from the market, with SEarch recently appointed by the disability charity the Papworth Trust and Cambridge City Council to retrofit and make DDA compliant 17 homes in the city, using his GTB approaches.   

As it stands, with so much uncertainty around, and a level of uptake by a market that may not be fully convinced of the programme’s merits, the view seems to be that the Green Deal may be something of a curate’s egg. ‘It’s a difficult concept to market,’ admits Smith. ‘Although sustainable retrofit insulates against a householder’s future energy cost rises, it’s not a sexy idea that’s easily sold to the public. Householders are not excited by the prospect of upheaval of their own homes for what seems an intangible benefit.’ The carrot of a one-off payment to householders has been mooted, but with Paul Davies, chief executive of the Green Deal Finance Company, calling it ‘a £150 figure to incentivise householders’, it’s not something that will set the market alight. 

Gething thinks that big firms pushing blanket retrofit approaches could mean the Green Deal gives rise to longer term problems. ‘It concerns me that with firms sticking to easy, profit-driven solutions, we’ll only get a short way along the road to energy efficiency, and there’s nothing like a failed project for bad PR,’ he says. The Technology Strategy Board’s Meikle is also cautious. ‘I don’t think it will be a success at first’, he says, ‘but the point is not to judge it on the first few months – it’s too important for that. We need to stick with it, learn from our mistakes, make changes to the Green Deal and ensure it works.’ 


High WYCOMBE 19th century retrofit: Jeremy Harrall, Search architects

modifying the UK’s existing building stock to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions significantly, potentially to nothing, will require ‘adaptation’  to become fossil fuel free – literally, cutting off gas and oil supplies. 

Whether by legislation or financial incentive, there is no evidence that the government is considering such a process of procurement. While the Green Deal continues to proffer the high-tech retrofit and refurbishment solutions prescribed by the construction industry’s prevailing wisdom (the BRE), households will be kept on the fossil fuel drip and only modest  emission reductions will be achieved. Worse still, building users will continue to be burdened with the costs of servicing, maintenance and eventual replacement of the mechanical appendages being prescribed for heating and ventilation. 

There is a simpler solution with proven results, derived from evidence-based research. It is low-tech, intelligent by design, provides natural heating, natural ventilation without the encumbrance of mechanical baggage and achieves near zero emissions. Greening-The-Box (GTB) advocates the adaptation of existing buildings to operate without reliance on fossil fuels while alleviating their burden on the utilities infrastructure. This approach best suits the emerging low carbon society where the economic impact of resource scarcity is already moving households and businesses to cut their use of fossil fuels. 

GTB, applied to a 200 year old four-bedroom property in High Wycombe in 2011, has significantly exceeded the performance of the average speculative housebuilders’ box, verified by the government’s measure of energy efficiency, the Standard Assessment Procedure(SAP).

Pre-adaptation, the High Wycombe property’s SAP rating was 49 compared to the average newbuild house rating of 80. Post-adaptation, High Wycombe’s SAP rating jumped to 89 with emission reductions of 17,878kg CO2 , more tangible was the 84% reduction in the rate of heat loss with a staggering £2,000 reduction in energy costs. 

Payback from the adaptation costs of £35,000 is estimated at 12 years taking into account rising fuel bills and a small feed in tariff contribution.
If the government is to achieve significant emission reductions like those at High Wycombe, the GTB approach of using passive solar design strategies allied to a high thermal mass fabric need appropriate recognition. If developers are to accept and adopt this approach, then SAP and the Code for Sustainable Homes need to promote low technological designs that deliver on the fossil fuel free agenda. And why not? It costs less, has lower risks and it works!

GTB’s success at High Wycombe will ensure the house remains an affordable and viable home for living in, in perpetuity.  Future generations of residents have been provided a perpetual legacy of exceptional environmental credentials. The most profound of these is the eradication of reliance on fossil fuels.  

 

 

  • The completed 200 year-old High Wycombe house, post retrofit.
    The completed 200 year-old High Wycombe house, post retrofit.
  • Ground source heating is installed to obviate reliance for space heating on fossil fuel resources.
    Ground source heating is installed to obviate reliance for space heating on fossil fuel resources.
  • Building ‘adaptation’ requires significant material changes to the house to increase its efficiency.
    Building ‘adaptation’ requires significant material changes to the house to increase its efficiency.
  • The High Wycombe house in winter, partly converted.
    The High Wycombe house in winter, partly converted.

 


 

South London Victorian retrofit: Richard Griffiths, Parity projects

Parity Projects recently completed its second demonstration retrofit on a semi-detached Victorian property in south London. Parity’s first demonstration house focussed on installing and testing a range of different and innovative measures, but this was intended to be a more realistic retrofit, using measures that could be easily applied in homes up and down the UK. Since the house was also in need of a wider refurbishment, and extensions were planned, the project was also a chance to see how the ‘marginal cost’ of improving its energy performance could be minimised through a genuinely integrated and thoughtfully sequenced renovation. 

The project began with a detailed analysis of the property using Parity Projects’ Home Energy Masterplan assessment tool. These are designed to account for both the physical details of the property and the specific lifestyle of its occupants. This approach means that the most cost effective measures for reducing both the property’s energy bills and its environment impacts can be accurately identified, avoiding the potential to waste money on generic and inappropriate solutions. We wanted to show that significant energy savings were possible without the ‘eco-renovation premium’, and in that vein a significant amount of the work was carried out as DIY.

Alongside typical upgrade measures (loft insulation etc), most of the walls were brought up to around 40% better than building regulations through internal and external insulation, while a tricky side wall was enclosed to create an unheated buffer area. Inside, heating options from heat pumps to biomass were evaluated, but the most cost effective solution was found to be a simple, high efficiency gas boiler.  Further energy savings were made by dividing the house and its central heating system into four individually programmable and thermostatically independent zones. 

 

  • Internal wall insulation provides added thermal efficiency.
    Internal wall insulation provides added thermal efficiency.
  • Rigid insulation is applied on batons directly to the exterior walls of the rear elevation.
    Rigid insulation is applied on batons directly to the exterior walls of the rear elevation.
  • The rear elevation rendered and completed.
    The rear elevation rendered and completed.
  • The front elevation of Parity Projects’ south London property.
    The front elevation of Parity Projects’ south London property.

AT A GLANCE: WHAT IS THE GREEN DEAL?

What is the Green Deal?

The Green Deal is the result of the Energy Act 2011, which established a framework for a national scheme to encourage energy efficiency. It aims to lower carbon emissions and reduce national demand for imported energy supplies.
The government-backed initiative promotes the installation of energy efficient measures to householders.

Why is it necessary?

Our housing stock is ageing and energy profligate. 74% of our homes were built before 1975. Homes produce 27% of UK green house gas emissions. The Climate Change Act 2008 sets out mandatory carbon emission reduction targets of 34% by 2020 and 80% by 2050.
Household energy bills average £1124 a year, which could rise by 30% in real terms by 2030.

How does the Green Deal work?

It provides consumers and businesses with the opportunity to improve their property’s energy efficiency via the Green Deal Plan, with no upfront cost, paid back over time through energy bills. A number of pre-requisites are in place to ensure that the consumer is protected:
> Anticipated cost savings must equal or exceed the collected payments attached to the energy bills – the Green Deal Golden Rule.
> Works carried out as part of the Plan must be proposed by a UKAS accredited Green Deal advisor, registered by the Green Deal Oversight Body, working through a certified Green Deal advisor organisation.
> Installed measures must be carried out by a certificated Green Deal installer.
> The provider must act in accordance with the terms of the Consumer Credit Act.
> Full consent must be obtained from the energy bill payer along with all relevant parties before proceeding with a Green Deal plan.
>Disclosure of the Green Deal must be made, through the EPC, in the event of the transfer of a property through sale or otherwise.

What’s the process?

The householder requests an assessment.
A certified Green Deal advisor (GDA) carries out an impartial assessment and proposes a package of measures to increase the home’s energy efficiency. This will involve producing an EPC with an occupancy assessment, which together form the Green Deal advice report. Costs of the works must meet the ‘Golden Rule’. Customers can take assessment to other Green Deal providers to get quotations for the work.
The Green Deal measures are installed and paid for by the preferred Green Deal provider. The householder or business begins repaying the work through a charge on the electricity bill.

Taken from the BRE ‘Green Deal Guide’


INDUSTRY VIEWS

Anne Dye, Head of technical research, RIBA

Architects’ particular skills will let them integrate their services with the Green Deal. Its financing should encourage the general upgrading of domestic homes, which should be good news for architects. Homeowners will see the wider benefits in a ‘Don’t move, Improve!’ approach. 
We would like safeguards for consumers – they need to know that advice is impartial. There should be no link between advisors, providers and insurers. Particular opportunities should exist for the upgrading of conservation or listed properties, as your average Green Deal installer wouldn’t have this specialisation. This would play to architects on the Conservation Register.     

 

Robin Nicholson, Edward Cullinan Architects

I’m deeply sceptical about it working, as there’s no motivation for the householder. The retrofit is inconvenient and there’s no financial incentive. Wilmott Dixon got involved with a retrofit of the 1950s Rampton Drift estate in Northstowe, Cambridge, a test bed for the Green Deal. Set up by the local authority, it was free to the tenants. Two things came of it – first, that tenants didn’t want to know, and secondly, when Wilmott Dixon imagined blanket approaches to the houses, it turned out each home had different requirements. It seemed each home needed an architect. With the big providers using blanket approaches, it could be a dog’s dinner for the consumer.

 

Chris Broadbent Director of training, BRE

We’re offering Green Deal accreditation training for domestic retrofit, and more complex advice for non-domestic from September. Energy assessors are individually accredited – until now it’s just been organisations. Generally assessors are EPC assessors extending their scope. This is market driven by Green Deal providers. The issue for would-be advisers is to find out how they’d best get business from it. DECC has funded 1,000 training courses allocated on a first come first serve basis. They generally cost £1200-1500. The Code of Conduct demands that energy reports are transferable so they can be moved around between Green Deal providers. 

Once the assessment is written however, any Green Deal assessor can become a retailer.

 

Andrew Geens Head of certification, CIBSE

CIBSE wants to be a certification body for the Green Deal. The way it works is that companies have to be certified for Green Deal advice and the adviser gives out that info. Certification bodies will have to comply to BS45011 for advice on products, so any consultancy must register as a non-domestic Green Deal advice organisation. 

There are three stages to the process. First is the advice report, which is where we’re involved. Then there is the work done by a Green Deal installer, and finally bid stage funding. These processes need to be seen to be independent.