Data-driven Retrofits for a Decarbonised Housing Stock

Barely a few months since COP26, the new year is a poignant reminder that the climate clock is ticking and of the urgent action needed to limit global warming to 1.5˚C. While there is hopeful progress in the growth of green energy and electric vehicles and a shift towards sustainability in business, there is still significant work to do to address decarbonisation in the UK housing sector. Stewart Little, CEO of IRT Surveys, explains how new, data-rich technologies enable property owners, landlords, developers and construction businesses to make smarter retrofit decisions and achieve improved sustainability.

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If the UK is to meet its net-zero targets, there is a critical need to overhaul the energy efficiency of the housing stock. While many new homes are built with sustainability in mind, the vast majority by 2050 will still have poor energy performance ratings. As a result, the UK’s housing stock is forecast to account for 95% of built environment emissions1. Addressing this issue is one of the most important challenges for not only the housing sector but the UK as a whole.

Data-driven insights

While some progress is already taking place in the social housing sector, it still leaves 15 million owner-occupied and 4.44 million privately-rented homes requiring decarbonisation over the next 28 years. Achieving that will be an extremely complex and highly-expensive process. If property owners, landlords, developers and construction companies are to deliver these improvements quickly and cost efficiently, they will need to make smart retrofit decisions to guide them on a path to reducing emissions.

Today, as in so many other cases, it is data that provides the insights industry professionals need to make those smarter retrofit decisions. By using Building Information Modelling (BIM) for building envelope thermal performance analysis and energy-efficiency evaluation, organisations conducting decarbonising retrofit projects can identify their properties’ emissions and energy-efficiency issues, predict the costs of addressing them and calculate their return on investment (ROI).

The impact can be enhanced even further when BIM is enriched with thermal imaging, sensor data and other associated data. By combining BIM with advanced thermal imaging technology, for example, organisations obtain accurate visual insights into the conditions of a property and have much more valuable data on which to make decisions. Infrared thermal imaging can prove both the need and the efficacy of installation. It is visual, engaging and an irrefutable tool to bookend the survey process, often revealing a wide range of previously undetected energy-efficiency issues, such as empty or half-filled wall cavities, weaknesses with waterproofing, defective insulation and a variety of other problems.

Compared to traditional surveying methods, thermal imaging also has other benefits. With no drilling or hammering, it’s non-invasive and doesn’t damage the building’s fabric, and so provides value without incurring the additional costs of repair. It is also faster, cleaner and cheaper, without the need to erect scaffolding. With thermal imaging pricing starting at £20 per elevation and with around 300 images able to be completed, per night, per camera, it allows a comprehensive survey process to be carried out in a single visit, reducing cost, time and inconvenience for the occupier.

For larger landlords and organisations working on at-scale projects, benefits can also be achieved by harnessing new technology, data and cloud-based applications. Modern platforms can merge, augment and analyse data from a wide range of properties to make decisions on which homes are best suited for a retrofit and to create a project roadmap. If required, this can also be aligned with investment criteria so that projects can fit in with investment programmes and enable suitable funding opportunities to be identified to minimise costs.

By conducting thermal imaging, together with inclusive 10 archetype internal surveys (including EPCs, airtightness, gSkin U-value thermocouples and retrofit assessment and coordination), properties can be assessed against a range of criteria. These can consist of structural integrity, condition and orientation, whether the homes have external wall insulation, contain asbestos or if they can take PV structurally. This data provides organisations with the critical insights they need to filter large numbers of homes so that projects can be created to deal with the properties most in need or for undertaking the rollout of specific improvements, such as cavity wall insulation, where required.

Partial or inaccurate data can seriously hinder the completion of energy-saving retrofit projects, especially those at scale. The hard data provided by thermal imaging ensures that professionals can make informed decisions based on accurate facts. As a result, by using quantified thermal imaging, construction companies, landlords, property owners and developers can achieve reductions in carbon emissions, make financial savings and improve occupants’ standards of living by making homes warmer, drier, less susceptible to issues like damp or mould and, in a time of rapidly-rising energy costs, make them cheaper to run.

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