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Retrofit centre-stage in climate action for the built environment

Engineering services alliance Actuate UK has called for industry and government collaboration on the challenge of retrofitting and decarbonising our existing buildings. Speaking on behalf of Actuate UK at the Construction Leadership Council’s COP26 session, Michelle Agha-Hossein CEng MCIBSE, building performance and soft landings lead at Building Services Research and Information Association (BSRIA) said: “The UK government has acknowledged that the built environment will need to be almost completely decarbonised by 2050, and that achieving this must be through a mix of energy efficiency measures and a transition to low carbon technologies. 

“Currently the UK has the least energy efficient housing stock in Europe, But this is not just an environmental issue. For many people, high and increasing energy bills means a stark choice between heating or eating.” 

Agha-Hossein was talking on how retrofit is key to delivering net zero carbon in the Construction Leadership Council’s session Construction: The Build Environment. Also discussed was the importance of materials, design, and professional services. 

Buildings in the UK account for 23 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions; 17 per cent of which result primarily from the use of fossil fuels for space heating and hot water production; homes are more significant than all other building types put together.  

Although, newly constructed buildings will be more energy efficient, partly due to the recent adoption of the fabric first approach, 80 per cent of buildings that we have today will still be in use in 2050. So, the priority is decarbonising our existing stock and retrofitting around 28 million homes. 

Agha-Hossein, a chartered engineer herself, stressed the importance of the sector to solving the retrofit challenge. “Retrofitting will not only have environmental benefits but also social gains as we must ensure decarbonising buildings will optimise occupant safety, health and comfort,” she added. “This is where building services engineers will play a pivotal role.  

“There will be challenges, ranging from financial barriers, skill gaps, and need for a cultural change in the way we design, deliver, and use our buildings. But we are making progress to address these. Actuate UK is a bridge between policy makers, who set targets, and professional engineers who strive to deliver those targets.” 

Actuate UK supports the Construction Leadership Council’s Domestic Retrofit Strategy and members of the alliance are engaged in coordinated and comprehensive action on climate change, as for example under CIBSE’s Climate Change Action Plan, and are already producing guidance to members including BSRIA’s upcoming illustrated guide to renewable energy technologies. 

Actuate UK is currently mapping the green skills needed to support retrofit and net zero agendas, with two of its members (BESA and FETA/HPA) already developing and delivering courses on new heating technologies. 

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