With housing maintenance work due to slowly increase over the next few months, after the easing of the lockdown periods most restrictive rules, it might be time to think about the importance of correctly retrofitting properties. With so many people locked inside of their homes, reports of issues that need resolving are likely to skyrocket. As part of most housing providers programmes for improving their property stock, and maintaining Decent Homes / SQHS / WQHA, this is likely to mean several new retrofit projects. Making sure you get this right early on will likely save money and time, as well as improve the lives of your residents.
Selecting the Right Product
The most important thing when correctly specifying a retrofit is to ensure that the product is relevant for the individual property. A blanket brush approach across your whole stock may not be the most effective, and making sure you address underlying issues is paramount. The most expensive ventilation system in the world isn’t going to fix a condensation, damp and mould problem if the insulation in the property is failing. Ensuring that the product is right for the property often involves utilising environmental and performance data to understand, not just how the resident feels in the property, but the actual property performance. It is also important to make sure that the product can be easily installed. Retrofitting energy efficiency technology or building fabric upgrades is already expensive enough – but if the product requires specialist training, additional staff or non-standard deconstruction to install the product, it will significantly increase costs and reduce the portfolio-wide rates of retrofit success. Finally, the product needs to be built for affordable housing. There is a tonne of consumer devices that can improve heating efficiency in a property,, but those devices might not be suited to affordable housing. There are specific challenges that affordable housing faces and the retrofit technology being installed needs to address those. The most obvious example being the installation of a noisy and high RPM ventilation fan in the bathroom. 9 times out of 10 that fan will be turned off or disabled.
Ensuring a Painless Installation Experience
Once you’ve found the right product, the next thing to think about is the installation experience. This affects both the installer (either your DLO or your external contractor) but also your residents. The priority should be around least disruption as well as the measures be completed efficiently. As above – when a product requires an installation that is particularly involved both in terms of time and in terms of resources, you are increasing the impact it will have on your residents. In many cases, they will understand that the retrofit is happening to improve their quality of life, but the longer the installation takes, the higher the chance that they will begin to tire and potentially look for faults in the works being done. The more complicated an installation, the more likely that a defect may occur, with the resulting follow-up visit sure to sour the resident to the product or the housing provider. You also need to ensure that the measure doesn’t negatively impact a resident’s life. Ultimately you are there installing the retrofit technology to improve resident’s comfort. However, if the improvement measure negatively impacts their quality of life either through sound, heat loss or increased energy bills, residents will look to disengage with the product and/or ask to have it removed, increasing your overall costs. Finally, the product should probably require little to no interaction to function. When you are looking at a portfolio-wide retrofit project you need to find technologies that are the most likely to succeed. In our experience – the technologies that gain the best results are those that residents don’t have to think about. They sit quietly in the background doing their job.
Track Their Efficiency
Finally, once you’ve installed the improvement measure(s) you need to track and analyse its performance to ensure that it is working and evaluate to determine if it should be rolled out in similar situations in the future. Firstly, you need to ensure that the device works in the immediate – that means checking back in a month or two to ensure that the problem it was installed to fix has not returned. In the case of unconnected technology, this usually means a second site visit but for connected technologies this is as simple as logging in and checking the results. Secondly, you need to ensure that the measure is being used by the resident. If you have installed a new heat recovery ventilation system, for example, ensuring that residents have not unplugged it or blocked any of the inlets and outlets ensures that the readings you’ve just gathered are not inaccurate due to misuse. Finally tracking the installed device over a longer period (2-5 years) ensures that it both continues to work as intended but also that it maintains its efficiency at combatting the initial problem. Installing a new smart thermostat, for example, only to have it stop working after a year is a poor investment for your business and will have negative effects on your residents.
With the right product, you can improve the lives of your residents
After you’ve selected your product, gone through the installation process and then tracked its efficiency you can now be confident that you have made a significant improvement to the lives of your residents. There is a tonne of different retrofit technologies (including our Smart Thermostat) – but ultimately what makes a successful retrofit programme is picking the right technology and deploying it with care.