Why retrofit could be the future of sustainable independent living

Building back better

As we move towards to a post-Covid world, the government has set out its plan to ‘Build Back Better’, aiming to kickstart the economy with a focus on infrastructure, skills and innovation. 

There is a push to improve public services and support local communities, with a range of cross-sector funding announcements. There’s also a drive for a ‘green revolution’, with the government reiterating their net zero carbon aspirations and offering decarbonisation funding. 

Rapidly ageing population

But what does this mean for the Independent Living sector? There are around 12.5 million people in the UK over 65 years old, which is approximately 19% of the population. However, it has been estimated that there are only about 750,000 retirement dwellings in the UK, which equates to around 3% of all UK homes. 

While this can be partially explained by retirees remaining within their family homes, these figures show a requirement for rapid growth to support the ageing UK population.

Benefits of retrofit

Retrofit can clearly provide a stimulus for our economy as it emerges from a recession created by the pandemic. It will help prevent further decline and put money back into local communities.  

Retrofit is not just good for the economy as a key part of the government’s ambitions towards investment in innovation, skills and infrastructure – it’s also good for the environment, helping the UK meet its future CO2 targets. 

As we create better options for later living and retirement communities, it is vital that improvements are made to our existing buildings with regards to their environmental performance, helping to move towards a net-zero carbon future. Retrofit is playing a huge part in this. 

Improving the efficiency of our estates

Good examples of the type of initiatives that can support this agenda can be found in our work with WDH – one of the UK’s largest social housing providers, with over 32,000 homes throughout its operating area across the north of England. Working in partnership with WDH, we have implemented a large-scale programme of retrofit works and improvements across their housing estate. 

A range of measures have been implemented, including the installation of air source heat pumps, photovoltaics, insulated render and improved roof insulation. 

Simpler measures, but also effective, include the replacement of windows and doors with more thermally efficient types, LED lighting and the installation of more efficient gas boilers. 

While these measures are important, other innovative technologies will help to further improve the energy efficiency of our housing stock. A pilot project is currently underway with WDH providing battery storage for energy generated by photovoltaics. This will allow the unused solar energy generated during the day to be stored for use throughout the evening and night and will provide a significant reduction in carbon emissions. 

On another scheme, the financial benefit of installing photovoltaics has been passed on to WDH’s tenants via reductions in service charges for lighting communal areas. In this way, as well as assisting with the economic recovery and improving the environmental performance of our buildings, retrofit is also playing its part in alleviating fuel poverty.

As we move towards a post-Covid world, we must take lessons from the enormous challenges brought by the pandemic and ‘Build Back Better’, fairer and greener. The hope is that we can make positive changes and improvements for the long term, and that these will be the legacy of the pandemic. 

From Katrin Dietrich, Regional Director of AHR Building Consultancy. She leads a broad range of projects with clients including housing providers and local authorities, delivering refurbishment and retrofit schemes that improve all aspects of buildings.