02 September 2020

What impact will PAS 2035 have on the social housing market?

Nearly four years separate the initial research that resulted in the publication of ‘Each Home Counts’ and PAS 2035 coming into effect.

The former was a review – by the then Chief Executive of BRE Group, Dr Peter Bonfield – into the way in which both public and privately funded retrofit projects were being delivered. The latter is the detailed set of standards that have emerged from this.

Let’s first look at the background, intent and requirements that PAS 2035 details for retrofits, and then let’s analyse how these will affect the social housing market.

Energy efficiency

A large part of the history that informs the new guidelines lies in the government’s commitment to reduce all UK greenhouse gas emissions to create a net zero economy by 2050.

Buildings are the third biggest contributor to emissions and – despite all the talk – there has only been the slightest reduction since 1990 (see slide 1 image)

There are about 25 million homes in the UK – and many of these were built before concerns about insulation and emissions had even arisen. But, despite the fact that for years now we have known that heating is the largest cause of a household’s emissions, there has been no improvement in its share of these (see slide 2 image).

Enter the retrofit

The solution is retrofitting.

But what Dr Bonfield discovered was that due to a lack of understanding and training many retrofits were making either minimal difference or, in some cases, actually making the situation worse.

He heavily criticised energy efficiency policies for their blinkered approach. These often happen in isolation and the result is a blind ‘follow the money’ approach that simply implements what grant funding schemes are on offer.

Retrofits have taken little heed to what is best for the home, or for its occupants. His findings were echoed by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Healthy Homes and Buildings’ White Paper.

PAS 2035 looks set to change this.

PAS 2035

BSI produced the PAS 2035 specification in July 2019 to ensure that:

Consumers receive good advice that is suited to their needs and the needs of their property

Trained, qualified and competent Retrofit Assessors will review each property, considering not only the energy saving opportunities but the condition of the property and its suitability for improvement

Each property has a medium-term improvement plan that outlines all the work than can be done to maximise energy efficiency potential, including essential maintenance that will, if not treated, undermine the effectiveness or durability of a retrofit

All work completed by designers and installers is overseen to ensure the energy efficiency potential of the home is being fulfilled

PAS 2035 specifies the requirement for a holistic approach to retrofits.

It requires a proper assessment of the building – including building pathology, thermal modelling, ventilation, interactions between proposed energy efficiency measures, testing, monitoring and evaluation.

There are also some very specific technical requirements in relation to ventilation – recognising, at last, the critical role that ventilation must play in retrofits.

Any proposed retrofit must now assess ventilation. If there is evidence that ventilation is inadequate, such as mould or condensation, and the building fabric is to be upgraded, then working ventilation has to be installed. And installed to strict measures, such as those met by innovative products like Unity CV3 extract fan.

Overall, the new specification has been warmly welcomed.

It has been called ‘a watershed moment for the energy efficiency industry’ by Stuart Fairlie, Technical Director of Elmhurst Energy. Rob Hargreaves, who runs fuel poverty programmes at Severn Wye Energy Agency, said that ‘a scheme which reassures us about the quality of the contractors and their work is really welcome’.

There have been criticisms levelled at it, particularly from some areas of the heating industry. Stewart Clements, Director at the HHIC, complained that ‘bureaucratic delays that could leave vulnerable people without heating and hot water. The proposals are yet another example of unnecessary burden.’

Social housing

We asked, back in April, why is social housing so slow to implement thermal retrofits?

We highlighted a report reviewing the government’s progress in reducing greenhouse gases. One of the report’s authors called for a national, one-off deep retrofit programme for all residential properties, that should start with social housing.

Social housing accounts for 4.5 million of our homes. By focussing on these first whole locales could be engaged at one time, driving efficiencies and cost savings.

But, at the moment, retrofits are lying low on social housing’s agenda. A recent survey highlighted some of the reasons why:

▪️ The limited opportunities for accessible funding and distinct lack of legislative pressure

▪️ A reallocation of budgets away from insulation following the Hackitt Review

▪️ Intense pressure on internal budgets for building new homes

▪️ Limited knowledge about thermal retrofits within social housing and its suppliers

PAS 2035 answers the second and last concerns, in its emphasis on specific roles to assess and review.

And so, we are left with two concerns, both of which boil down to money.

As one astute critic of the standard noted:

‘The major issue we have now is a misalignment between the revised process and funding mechanisms. The industry needs to work with BEIS and OFGEM to ensure that the good practices of PAS 2035 are adequately funded.’

The reasons for making this funding available are clear:

‘According to the Sustainable Energy Association, a combination of deep retrofit of existing social housing, far greater standards in new-builds and rapid market growth of low carbon heating systems is now required. Repairing these properties to a high standard, with insulation and renewable energy technology, will cut consumer costs and bring other benefits, such as improved health and wellbeing.’

Despite some radical steps being taken, the latest publication by CCC indicates that we will not hit our targets without an almost complete decarbonisation of the housing stock.

This does not look likely.

For social housing a barrier to large-scale retrofitting of its existing housing stock is that costs are currently too high, and that there isn’t a construction and supply chain with the capability and capacity to deliver in volume and at speed.

It faces many other challenges, that include overcrowding, a legacy of poor-quality homes, a chronic housing shortage to meet and pressure to meet a number of disparate targets.

Some local authorities are now seeking firmer government policy on retrofit – and RPs can join them in seeking subsidies, grants and other benefits that may eventually result.

For local authorities and RPs, deep retrofit of the existing housing stock represents a potential social and market opportunity.

There is evidence that momentum is starting to build.

Many social housing providers are developing new policies and plans for their estates to be zero-carbon for heating, near net-zero overall energy and designed to account for future climate change – the Greater London Authority’s London Plan Policy being just one example.

It is possible that, by combining the planned investment in the maintenance and refurbishment of their stock over 20-30 years with energy cost and other savings over the period, social landlords can make an economic case for investing in deep retrofit to upgrade properties to 2050 standards now.

But the sense still remains, and is hard to banish, that without centrally allocated funding mechanisms the gains offered by PAS 2035 will remain paper promises rather than an aid for social housing to lead – or even play a significant role in – the deep retrofit that is so desperately needed.