UK urged to act on housing inefficiencies as climate efforts threatened

Britons live in some of the least efficient housing in Europe and its inability to upgrade its homes is affecting its ability to tackle the climate crisis.

A Hard-hitting new report from a team at Imperial College London warns countries including Germany, France, Sweden, Norway, Italy and the Netherlands have been rolling out multiple programmes and incentives to reduce residents’ energy consumption and costs, leaving the UK trailing in their wake.

The report, Decarbonising Buildings: Insights From Across Europe,  has been published by the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial, says the UK government is falling behind in helping people conserve energy, leaving Brits living in some of the least efficient housing in Europe, and compounding the energy and cost of living crises.

Lead author Dr Salvador Acha, (pic) from the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London, said: “Studies show the UK’s 28.6 million homes are among the least energy efficient in Europe and lose heat up to three times faster than on the continent, making people poorer and colder.

“At a time of increased energy bills and inflation, people in the UK can’t afford to lose energy due to inefficient housing, but unfortunately energy policy in this area has been nil for many years. With the continued climate crisis, and the fact that our homes account for 30 per cent of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions, the planet can’t afford this lack of action either.”

The Grantham report comes just two weeks after the Department for Business, Energy and Industry Strategy (BEIS) announced a £1billion grant scheme to help homeowners that have low energy efficiency ratings and are in lower council tax bands, insulate their homes. The scheme has been criticised for not opening until Spring.

Acha added: “I’m pleased to see the UK government taking this step in the right direction, despite the tardiness of the announcement, as we have been suffering from high energy prices for over a year. However, action needs to be taken on an even larger scale. If each eligible home claims the maximum grant of £15,000, the new scheme will help about 67,000 homes – a tiny proportion of the houses that need to be upgraded, and roughly 0.25% of the housing stock.

“Insulating the UK’s homes would reduce the amount of energy we need to heat them. Well-insulated homes leave more money in people’s pockets, keep them warm, well and comfortable, and less worried about paying their bills. They also reduce our demand on overseas energy sources, strengthening our national energy security. Our research shows that European countries are ahead in crafting innovative policies to reduce energy use and costs, so we know change is possible.”
The authors’ have said the UK government need to:

1) Create the right conditions that encourage and support people to make their homes more energy efficient;

2) Ensure the UK has the skilled workforce needed to make new and older buildings more energy efficient;

3) Concurrently, improve energy certification schemes (e.g., the Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) presently used in the UK and European Union) to ensure they more accurately reflect the energy performance and environmental impact of properties;

4) Reduce emissions from heating buildings by replacing fossil-fuelled systems with reliable and more efficient technologies such as electric heat pumps.

“This requires long-term planning with short-term targets, incentives and advice for homeowners to take up new technologies, and the provision of skills and training for the workforce across our local communities who will be making the improvements,” explained Acha.

The UK government has committed to 600,000 heat pump installations per year by 2028, and to ensure heat pumps are no more expensive to buy and run than gas boilers by 2030. Currently, households are encouraged to replace their gas boilers with air-source heat pumps while benefitting from a £5,000 grant. The installation of gas boilers in new housing developments is set to be phased out by 2035 and both new and existing homes will have to meet at least EPC band C ratings by 2035.

“Although these targets are a step in the right direction there is a lack of clarity on how businesses will be supported to invest in sufficient skilled labour across the country to install thousands of heat pumps and revamp homes. I fear that the socio-economic inequality of the country will be reflected in widening the south and north divide in terms of quality housing – a national comprehensive effort is needed to ensure these policies benefit all,” concluded Acha.

The report, Decarbonising Buildings: Insights From Across Europe,  has been published by the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial, says the UK government is falling behind in helping people conserve energy, leaving Brits living in some of the least efficient housing in Europe, and compounding the energy and cost of living crises.

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