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Are we heading towards a retrofit crisis?

A new report warns of a building retrofit crisis in the UK as non-domestic buildings appear to be failing to address necessary alterations to achieve net zero.

Construction consultancy Ridge and Partners LLP carried out independent research questioning 101 property and facilities heads from leading UK organisations. This is a small, but meaningful number of conversations, given that fewer than one in four of the public or private sector organisations questioned were attempting to make their non-domestic premises more environmentally sustainable.

Of greater concern was the finding that just one in ten is assigning any kind of budget to retrofit buildings to reduce their environmental impact suggesting a retrofit crisis is indeed on the cards.

The vast majority (86%) of organisations underestimated the need to retrofit buildings to make them more energy efficient. Over a third mistakenly believe less than 39% of the UK’s current building stock will still be in use by 2050. Whereas in reality, it will be nearer twice this level at 70%.

The research is suggestive, pointing to ‘vast swathes’ of UK organisations sleepwalking towards a building crisis. The consultancy believes that unless major changes are introduced the UK will have failed to reach the government’s net zero target in 2050 due to a large majority of businesses occupying old, inefficient buildings that have failed to receive necessary retrofitting.

According to the report, lack of government action is seen as a key problem, a belief that concurs with our experiences across the country as a key provider of sustainable hot water for commercial building projects. 52% of those questioned believe VAT on refurbishments should be removed. Almost half (49%) observed business rates continue to discourage retrofit. More than half called for financial incentives to encourage retrofitting of buildings.

Beyond government action, the report identifies four things which need to change to improve the situation and help avoid a retrofit crisis:

Critically, the attitude of UK boards, both to their buildings and to those who manage them needs to change. Facilities and property heads need to be more involved by their boards in decisions. The research indicated that despite 76% of organisations working towards net zero, 55% of facilities managers say their boards simply do not see retrofitting buildings as part of their net zero strategy. 23% of the heads of buildings in the largest companies are not involved in any net zero planning at board level and a further 47% say even when involved, they are too removed from environmental discussions to be able to make a meaningful contribution. 19% are not even privy to the strategic plans of their organisations.

How building estate budgets are set needs to change. More than half (54%) of organisations set their building budgets based on the past year’s costs. This is deemed an approach which will never accommodate a major retrofit programme.

Retrofit myths need debunking. For instance, 45% of those in charge of buildings believe if the grid is carbon neutral, they don’t need to worry about getting their buildings to net zero. While 24% feel that retrofitting won’t make a big enough difference to their building’s carbon footprint. This is blatantly not the case, and at Adveco we can ably demonstrate how addressing a move from gas to electrical watering heating alone can make a considerable impact on carbon reduction through the application of our Live Metering service.

Finally, organisations need expert support. 31% fear retrofitting’s disruption, 29% lack the bandwidth for such a project and 25% don’t know how to make a business case for it. Talking to expert suppliers such as Adveco is an easy win, with a dedicated applications design team on hand, we can supply the data to help make the business case for retrofitting today, and we can show how to do so with minimal physical disruption and often lower capital investment than expected.

The tools and expertise are in place to support the most ambitious net zero plans, and you don’t need to wait years to commence and begin taking advantage of more efficient and renewable technologies which not only address carbon reduction but can go a long way to resolving fears over shifting energy costs and security.

Talk to Adveco today about site assessment, gas replacement, introducing heat pumps and solar thermal into existing hot water applications, and use of off-site constructed packaged plant rooms to refurbish with minimal disruption.