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Retrofit scheme set for seven million homes challenges architects

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The government’s latest drive to make existing UK homes energy-efficient should create years of work for architects – if they seize the opportunities

Under the newly announced ‘Warm Homes, Greener Homes’ strategy, the government aims to ‘affordably’ retrofit around seven million private and public homes. The £18 billion initiative, two-thirds of which will be delivered by energy companies, aims to reduce by 20 per cent the total carbon emissions from UK homes by 2020.

Housing minister John Healey said: ‘There is a lot of momentum to change and radically rethink how we track our energy use and refurbish our homes and buildings for the future.’ It is proposed that energy suppliers and local authorities will roll out retrofits street by street, starting in 2012.

Mark Siddall of Devereux Architects said: ‘This has huge potential for architects in terms of creating new work.’ But whether the majority of savings is made from internal or external insulation remains a key issue.

Siddall added: ‘We’re going with the external insulation approach. It’s the least inconvenient to the building occupiers and from a building physics approach it offers the least risk in terms of mould growth.’

However, because external insulation alters the physical appearance of buildings, it could meet planning objections if applied wholesale.

‘It’s the way forward, definitely,’ said Justin Underwood of Just Facades. ‘External overcladding has many benefits. Primarily, it does not eat into the more valuable building interior.’

Last month, CABE chairman Paul Finch said at a meeting of the AJ100 Breakfast Club: ‘There are more than 25 million homes in Britain… If we retrofit 4,000 homes per week, it would give us 30 years worth of work.


Charlie Baker of Urbed on the challenges of retrofitting

‘If we miss the target of 80 per cent less CO2 by 2050, what will be the use of all that architecture? Finding retrofitting solutions  isarchitecture – solving problems in such a way that we don’t create others while doing so. Take housing. External insulation is the most effective, but has issues. The architecture is fundamentally changed, or could be, or maybe should be, depending on the place. Architects need to become better at working with wider teams. This should be done as efficiently as possible as we’re talking about spending billions to get all 25 million homes done.’

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