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All existing homes to be Enerphit by 2050?

I read with great interest this article (paywall – sorry) on the Architects Journal website today. The general gist of which is that, if elected in 2015, The Lib Dems plan “to transform the Green Deal ‘into a comprehensive one-off programme to bring all homes up to the EnerPHit standard by 2050’“. This is based on the Lib Dem’s “Green Growth and Green Jobs – Transition to a Zero Carbon Britain” Policy Paper 109 (non-paywall link). I have reproduced the following two paragraphs in full:

“3.2.6 The Green Deal should provide ‘whole-house’ retrofitting. But if at first only limited improvements are made, it becomes more difficult to bring existing homes up to the standard needed to meet the UK’s carbon reduction targets, because subsequent improvements may be made less economic and householders may be unwilling to put up with a second round of disruption.

3.2.7 Liberal Democrats would transform the Green Deal into a comprehensive one-off programme to bring all homes up to the EnerPHit standard by 2050. The EnerPHit standard is a reduced version of the Passivhaus standard that recognises the challenges of upgrading older properties but uses Passivhaus components to provide quality assurance and verify energy performance. Such a programme would require considerable investment. We would, therefore, focus initially on two key areas: households suffering from fuel poverty and homes in off-gas areas. The total investment would be lower than that required to finance the equivalent generating capacity. We would also extend Green Deal Finance schemes to homes between lets, and homes in multiple occupation.”

Firstly, I applaud them for their ambition; something that has been completely lacking from other parties (even the Greens) on the particularly thorny issue of existing residential building performance and retrofit. I really want the Green Deal to work, but in its current state it’s so flawed that it’s unlikely to have the take-up desired or deliver the energy savings predicted by the very simplistic assessment methodology used.

I also applaud them for the recognition that retrofit needs to be a whole-house approach and that inadequate initial measures potentially make the long-term energy goals of this, and future, governments more difficult. This is definitely a major flaw with the current Green Deal approach.

I do have some concerns, though. I think the Passivhaus methodology is probably the most accessible and accurate way of designers taking control of the energy performance of their buildings and really getting energy use down and comfort up. However, the Passivhaus (and Enerphit) standards (however good and aspirational) are difficult to achieve and the certification process is costly. I have a feeling that this could make them prohibitive to many and perhaps derail this bold move before it has got going.

I would much rather see the methodology, especially the use of PHPP, as an imperative and introduce AECB Silver as a base level of performance. This is still an excellent level of energy use and comfort, but is less onerous and the self certification process is quicker and cheaper. There could then be one or two levels of attainment between this and Enerphit that perhaps lead to discounts in council tax or stamp duty to incentivise the investment in increased performance.

Either way, I’m really pleased that they’ve stuck their neck out on this and set out such ambitious targets. It will hopefully, at least, encourage a better debate on the retrofit and upgrade of our existing housing stock. As to the question in the title; probably not and what about new housing that’s being built now?….

Update: some more comment and a link to a building.co.uk article on the Lib Dem proposals.