by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The UK’s existing housing stock is responsible for over a quarter of our total carbon emissions and non-domestic buildings add a further 17 percent. In the The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management's recently published Manifesto, the Institution calls for a national program to retrofit appropriate energy and water saving technologies, which has the potential to save up to 40 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually in the residential sector alone.

Retrofitting existing buildings with energy and water efficiency measures is a cost-effective way to contribute to our climate change obligations, and would help stimulate a low carbon economy through significant job creation for fitters, assessors and manufacturers of efficient products and materials. The CIWEM calls for a wholesale upgrade program for existing housing stock covering water efficiency and energy conservation, as well as adaptation measures to cope with increased water stress, overheating and flooding.

A code for sustainable refit needs to be created and implemented with financial support available during the next political term, and existing homes should be required to meet specific efficiency performance levels either at point of next sale or as part of a staged program, supported by incentives funded through capital gains tax and/or stamp duty. The CIWEM also urges the Government to make VAT zero-rated on material and labor costs which are applicable to green retrofit programs.

And, although the Government aims to make all new homes carbon neutral by 2016, the CIWEM believes that greater emphasis should also be placed upon the quality of design and construction. In meeting demand for new development, there is a history of cheap, poor quality construction which quickly requires modification, repair or even replacement. This is not a sustainable approach and all too often results in a poor quality of life for inhabitants.

The CIWEM’s Manifesto says: “Our recommendations can reduce our impact on the environment, enhance our energy security and bring down the costs to consumers, helping those that are most vulnerable.”

Also included during any such retrofitting, in my opinion, should be, as and where possible, greywater systems and rainwater harvesting systems.

However, can anyone really see the British government going along to basically assist the subjects of Her Majesty to retrofit their homes. And what about housing association and council housing stock and the poor who may own their homes but have not funds to even think of doing any such retrofitting, regardless of whether there will be tax relief and zero VAT on the bits and pieces required and even on the labor costs.

© 2009