In light of the Paris Climate Agreement, more and more sectors are directing their attention toward increased sustainability, with a specific focus on decarbonization. The Housing sector is no different. Since 2015, Housing Providers have been putting together Carbon Neutrality targets and Zero Carbon initiatives in order to meet the legally binding decarbonization objectives the UK has agreed to. This means that by 2050 all businesses are expected to be entirely Carbon Neutral.
So why the sudden shift towards Climate Neutrality?
With Global Warming rates still rapidly accelerating there has been a notable rise in severe weather events such as droughts, wildfires, and floods. Scientists estimate that if we significantly cut carbon emissions, with a move towards total decarbonization, we can drastically slow the spread of Climate Change and mitigate these associated risks. But with the majority of Housing Providers still reliant on fossil fuels, these new Net Zero targets are a cause for concern.
The Housing Sector is vital when it comes to achieving Net Zero, with the industry accountable for 40% of all emissions and 44% of social homes failing to meet adequate EPC standards. Without rapid upgrades, the UK will be unlikely to meet the government’s 2050 Decarbonisation targets. This has left Housing Providers searching for ways to make their homes as Energy Efficient as possible. These improvements can range from minor changes such as updating fans to the complete removal of outdated Heating Systems on properties that hold an insufficient EPC rating.
But the question is who will pay for all of this?
How will Housing Providers fund these changes?
Reports by the Coalition for the Energy Efficiency of Buildings found that if Government plans to get all homes to an EPC rating of C or above were to be realized by 2035, the Housing Sector would be required to carry out an estimated £65billion worth of energy-efficient upgrades. A big focus has been on replacing Gas Heating systems with more sustainable methods, such as the installation of heat pumps. However, with an estimated 85% of social homes reliant on Gas Heating, a complete overhaul of these systems will prove to be a costly job.
Recent studies show that decarbonization of the housing sector is likely to cost £3.5billion per year, but the current Green Homes Grant set up by the Government is only worth £3billion in total making it a short-term solution. This leaves Landlords and Housing Providers scrambling to make up the difference.
It is hard not to look at these figures and feel overwhelmed. In the short-term, these Green Initiatives might seem like a huge investment but in the long-term these advances will yield many positive outcomes for Landlords and Housing Providers. Aside from the benefits decarbonization will have on the environment, the move toward energy efficiency will also save Housing Providers money in the long-term. These new initiatives will also help stabilize the UK’s economy which has taken a hit due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The rollout of retrofits and upgrades across properties is creating a boom in jobs for construction workers and maintenance crews, generating large profits which can then be filtered back as support for the Housing Sector.
What effect will these Green Initiatives have on residents?
Recent discussions into Decarbonisation and Climate Neutrality often tend to overlook one vital element: residents. There’s no way around it, these Green upgrades are going to greatly affect tenants. Conversations surrounding Net Zero need to factor in resident circumstances and the adjustment period that will be required for tenants to alter their habits and routines.
The NEA argues that a people-first approach is vital to the development of energy-efficient homes, with their research showing that tackling fuel poverty is crucial to achieving Net-Zero. It is no surprise to learn that fuel-poor homes have a higher likelihood of being energy inefficient and are therefore likely to produce far higher rates of emissions when compared to energy-efficient homes.
When looking at rolling out Green Repairs such as Smart Technology and Heat Pumps on a wide scale, Housing Providers must first take into account the circumstances of their residents. It is estimated that electric heating systems can cost four times more than their gas equivalents which, for residents living on the poverty line, may prove untenable. Therefore, it is important to mitigate the risk new installations can have on fuel poverty.
There is also a fear that elderly residents will struggle to interact with proposed new technology installations as they may be unsure of how to properly use them. In this instance, clear lines of communication between landlords and tenants are a necessity. Many businesses are happy to assist with installation and customer queries, for example here at Switchee our technology has been used to smooth the transition of residents from gas boilers to heat pumps. This was done by utilizing the in-built messaging functionality to address concerns remotely. This alleviates pressure from landlords who would be otherwise unable to communicate effectively with their tenants due to the sheer size of their portfolios.
The Benefits of Going Green
While it is true that a move towards Decarbonisation comes with difficulties, it is important not to understate the long-term benefits Net Zero provides. By creating a more carbon-neutral environment we can drastically slow the spread of climate change, this will create vital health benefits for ourselves and the environment. Decarbonisation will lead to lower air pollution levels, which decreases the risk of respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular disease, and lung cancer. This will lessen the strain on the NHS and lead to a vast improvement in public health by improving the resilience of these systems through reduced operating costs.
From a housing perspective, the development of energy-efficient homes will lower overall costs in the long-term. By implementing much-needed retrofits Housing Providers are lowering the risk of disrepair claims whilst also contributing to the wellbeing of their residents. The more energy-efficient a home is, the less it is going to cost to heat. By reducing resident’s reliance on fossil fuels and supporting them through the process, housing providers can help overcome rising fuel poverty levels. So, while the upfront costs may seem alarming the long-term benefits they provide will greatly compensate for the financial aspect.