Eradicating Fuel Poverty through Retrofits

Construction, Design, Sustainability

The definition of Fuel Poverty…In the UK, a household is considered to be in fuel poverty if its energy bills are disproportionately high when compared to its residual income (Low Income High Costs Indicator). Closely related to this is the sometimes poor standard of housing accommodation which causes residents to consume large amounts of energy to heat their homes.

The scale of the problem…Nationally, out of approx. 27.2million UK households, it is estimated that 4 million households are living ‘Fuel poor’. That’s a staggering 15% of our existing stock and there are suggestions from industry experts that the current figure could be even higher.

Whilst I’ve personally not had the unfortunate situation of being directly impacted by this, I have experienced living in poor quality (energy efficiency) rented housing during my student days. The experience stuck with me, and as an architect-developer I’m keen to use my skills to find creative solutions to address this problem.

Some of the causes…

  • Poorly designed, constructed and insulated existing stock of housing built 25+ years ago still in use and not refurbished to high standards.
  • Rising Fuel costs, housing cost increases (be it rent or purchase price), alongside wage increases below inflation leaves increasingly more households susceptible to fuel poverty vulnerability.
  • Sub-standard private rental properties neglected by Landlords.

To stay healthy in body, mind and spirit we need to stay warm and comfortable. Living cold homes can make vulnerable people ill and existing illnesses worse. This then places extra strain on the nation’s overstretched health and social care services. In the winter of 2016/2017 an estimated 34,300 deaths were recorded in England & Wales(*). Historic research has suggested that up to 30% of these can be attributed to people occupying cold homes. Something has to change.

A solution and its benefits…Good architectural design and construction can play a big part in alleviating fuel poverty.Retrofitting our existing stock of housing is one key ways to bring these 4million homes out of fuel poverty. To retrofit a home essentially means making the home more energy efficient and healthier by adding to or upgrading its existing features/components to a higher energy performance standard that also reduces energy running costs.

I see retrofits as the only viable way for homeowners/households to gain control and shelter their energy bills against significant future prices rises. Measures such as loft, floor and wall insulation, energy efficient heating, water, radiator systems and double/triple glazing are all simple ways to improving the energy performance of existing homes. Take a look at EnerPHit for more insight on this and get in touch if you’d like to share more thoughts on this.


MMC and Off-Site Construction

Construction, Design, Sustainability

Modern Methods of Construction is an evolving process in the delivery of buildings, through efficiency gains in time, materials and cost. There are also significant gains to made in Health & Safety and quality of finished elements.

A key point to note about MMC is that the various methods employed will generally all encompass an element of off-site manufacturing; that is construction activities of buildings being assembled under cover, finished and tested prior to being installed on site.

Advantages and points to note on MMC:

1. On-site building erection times are generally quicker, along with a watertight enclosure achieved
2. With the construction and assembly of components in a factory, a superior finish can be achieved through quality control measures not subject to the challenges of the weather. This is still dependent on the quality of machinery and/or the trained contractors operating them.
3. From a sustainability and social perspective, MMC brings many benefits including reduced wastage of materials through precision quantity measurements, reduced delivery movements and energy used on site. For the labour force there is a significant benefit of improved working environments under cover, with closer quality control measures, especially in climates similar to the UK’s or colder. All weather working can have the impact of improving health & safety records in the construction workplace, as RIDDOR incidents can be significantly reduced. The process of inspecting and snagging defects is also made more consistent under cover.
4. On site, successful MMC delivery requires accurately managed & setting out of foundations and structural members to accommodate the precision engineered elements that will be situated on them and have probably already been manufactured before the concrete has set!
5. MMC will typically require an advanced level of design detail and construction logistics planning prior to a start-on-site. Space requirements need to be considered access for large pre-fabricated or modular elements, as well their potential storage. With regards to design, there’s little room for on-site design changes as is very common with traditional construction methods.
6. Use of BIM technology is synonymous with MMC, as all the components needed to construction building elements can be precision modelled and tested in 3D, scheduled, costed and interrogated endlessly prior to commuting to design freeze and manufacture.

A future blog will delve into the various types of MMC. Watch this blogspace for more info….

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