Warmer, healthier homes

Domestic Retrofit
A Net Zero opportunity?

There are approximately 29 million buildings currently in existence that will still be in operation in 2050 and will need a form of retrofit to make them energy efficient and compliant for net zero targets.

What is domestic retrofit

Domestic retrofit, the process of making improvements to a home so that it becomes more energy efficient and operates with lower emissions presents a big opportunity for the UK both in terms of economic and social value.

To drive the necessary change, it's essential to promote the positive benefits of retrofit, highlighting its impact on people's lives, economic opportunities,and the positive legacy behaviours it can create.

The Decarbonisation Challenge

The decarbonisation of the energy system can only be achieved through a whole systems approach. It's not possible for individual sectors to decarbonise in isolation, nor for one technology to deliver decarbonisation on its own. There is no silver bullet solution. Decarbonisation needs to be a collaborative effort.

The decarbonisation of heat is possibly the biggest challenge that the UK faces, accounting for approximately 37% of UK emissions. Housing will be a significant component of the net-zero transition, with the majority of heating in UK homes today delivered by gas. To effectively decarbonise heat, we must transition away from gas and utilise a complementary range of technologies such as wind, solar, hydrogen, and nuclear to meet the increased demand for electricity in a decarbonised economy.

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Technology Solutions

Retrofit solutions will emerge from a complementary set of technologies, guided by both geographical energy infrastructure and tailored by the retrofit needs of each building. The most common approach to retrofitting today is External Wall Insulation (EWI), focusing on the 'fabric first' approach, which involves minimising overall energy consumption of a building.

Innovation will drive further uptake, including the refinement of existing technologies such as heat pumps, smart meters and solar panels, or the emergence of new ideas, such as infra-red wallpaper. Recognising the level of impact Artificial Intelligence (AI) and sensor technology will have on the delivery of decarbonised heat is crucial. Each sector, like housing, is an ecosystem of the wider net-zero transition, and the area of social and affordable housing is a subsection of that ecosystem as well. Clear planning and coordination are essential for effective implementation.


Data plays a crucial role in the successful delivery of retrofit programmes, informing decision-making and effective asset management practices. Accurate data helps identify priority properties for retrofitting, select appropriate measures for each property, and monitor post-installation performance. The Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) serves as a consistent comparator and is used in policy and regulation setting, with all social housing targeted to achieve a minimum EPC C rating by 2030.

Technology, including sensors and thermal imagery, is increasingly used for data collection. Thermal imagery, in particular, is a growing market for collecting accurate data, allowing pinpointing of building inefficiencies and providing a visual representation to residents. As technology advances, it helps tell a data-led story and quantify the results in financial terms, enabling more profound conversations with landlords and residents.


One of the significant current challenges highlighted by those involved in retrofitting is the shortage of skilled labour. The focus on retrofitting is essentially a new industry, and the workforce is generally an ageing demographic, necessitating the development of robust succession plans to manage this transition effectively. The sector's workforce will require a wide range of skills, extending beyond trade skills, and the industry has the potential to create an economic stimulus beneficial to the country in the long run.

The Retrofit Academy aims to drive the development of 200,000 retrofitters nationwide by 2030, but estimates suggest the sector will need close to 500,000 trained professionals. To attract talent, emphasis should be placed on the positive impact retrofitting will have on many lives, offering healthier, better ventilated, and warmer homes while reducing environmental impact.

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Retrofitting requires partnership and collaboration to deliver the government’s ambitious net zero targets. The scale of work to be undertaken is too big to be delivered by isolated parties. We all need to work together and share knowledge in order to meet the national goal.


Design allows us to clearly amplify the benefit to communities evidencing the health, financial and wider economic benefits of regeneration the programme investment will encourage. The design should always be driven by the outcome, in this case reaching net zero in a manner that improves residents’ lives, rather than what works best for a single organisation.


Open and honest conversations are needed with residents to highlight the change involved and what that means to them, the environment, and the local community. A large focus and emphasis should be put on promoting the successes of retrofit and use these to develop advocates to help explain what is “in it for them” helping change behaviour.


One of the significant challenges concerning net zero and decarbonisation is the issue of cost. While this transition creates economic opportunities, it comes with a heavy price tag, with low-carbon alternatives to fossil fuel-powered technologies currently more expensive. The cost of net zero cannot be borne solely by the public purse; instead, it must be funded through a combination of public and private finance, with the private sector expected to fund most of the transition. There are several available public schemes and programmes, such as the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, which require private sector finance to deliver the volume of work involved.

To provide true confidence for investment decisions, long-term plans and visions are required so that people understand their commitments. The effects of climate change have the potential to radically impact the value of assets in housing, emphasising the importance of long-term funding structures and investment plans. It's essential to look at new long-term borrowing parameters to make the borrowing itself more efficient against the retained value of the asset due to the retrofit work undertaken against it.