What makes a successful energy efficiency retrofit?

Badly designed energy efficiency retrofit can cause more problems than it solves

Badly designed energy efficiency retrofit can cause more problems than it solves

Short-term thinking: a retrofit disaster

I read an article on the Sustainable Homes website today that brought to mind a conversation with an ex-colleague, the property manager at a historic house in the south east of England. Her point was that ever since the sash windows had been sealed in their offices, the windows ran with damp and surely this couldn’t be a good thing. She’s absolutely right and the cause is as described in the article on the blog:

The tendency…to focus on the immediate and short term, with the consequent potential for a poorly designed and risk-controlled project, has long been a concern.

ECO funding

This article was looking at the implementation of ECO and specifically its focus on the short-term fix and goes on to look at organisations that have preferred to run projects without this type of funding, eg Viridian Housing, in order to retain more control.The blog post is a response to an article from Inside Housing (you need to regsiter to read articles) questioning whether energy efficiency work was in fact causing rather than solving problems for social housing tenants, but as the SH blog comments:

poor design, planning, procurement and delivery will create significant problems, and that’s the case for any work irrespective of why you wish to carry it out.

Active management

It’s vital particularly in this context to distinguish cause from effect. The author of the blog post, Tony Jarman of Your Homes Newcastle, points out the dangers of box-ticking to qualify for funding in an areas that “has to be actively managed”. He outlines the areas of skill and expertise that are required and the planning and monitoring pre- and post-retrofit that must be carried out. Otherwise, as he says, energy efficiency could become “the villain of the piece” and that would serve no-one.

Going back to that conversation I had, it’s all about “active management” of ventilation. Draughty sashes aren’t comfortable, but properly maintained and used as originally intended sash windows provide excellent draught-free ventilation. Sealing them up and bringing ventilation to an abrupt stop allows damp to build up. Apart from being uncomfortable to work in, damp is very dangerous for any building and will lead to a host of problems. Draughtproofing yes, lack of controlled ventilation no.