Decarbonisation retrofitting: securing a sustainable future through resident engagement

In this article, Claire Bailey-Jones, Business Development and Marketing Director at Novus Property Solutions discusses resident perceptions of decarbonisation retrofit programmes, and why challenging this is key to encouraging resident engagement.

The issue of climate change continues to be a key talking point of our time, and local authorities and other housing providers are under increasing pressure to decarbonise their portfolios.

Low carbon retrofitting offers an ideal solution for existing properties, with these programmes reducing carbon emissions through creating more energy efficient homes. The Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF) was launched by the government in 2019 and plays a crucial role in addressing carbon emissions across social housing. Wave 3 applications are expected to open this summer, and the SHDF will continue to help secure a sustainable future for the sector through providing financial support to social housing providers to implement measures such as insulation, heating systems upgrades, and renewable energy installations.

As well as supporting local authorities and other social housing providers in meeting net zero targets, the SHDF is a key strategy for reducing fuel poverty, another highly publicised topic. Retrofit works included in the funding allocation will help to provide warmer and more energy efficient homes that save residents up to £400 a year on their energy bills, as well as improving their health and wellbeing.

While decarbonisation retrofit programmes offer a series of benefits for local authorities and social housing landlords and their tenants, one of the biggest challenges to overcome is resident perception – which is often more negative than for other maintenance and refurbishment projects.

Understanding and challenging perceptions

Novus’ experience in the delivery of decarbonisation programmes has shown that residents’ perception of this type of work is varied. Many understand it as a way of becoming more sustainable as a general concept, but there is a significant lack of engagement in this aspect.

In contrast, the majority of residents welcome the idea of having a warmer home that costs less to heat. However, even with this appeal in mind, the process is often regarded as inconvenient due to the levels of noise and intrusion which are necessary but can be frustrating for residents. This can be amplified by the lack of tangible results in the early stages – before reduced energy bills and other benefits become apparent – as well as lack of aesthetic enhancement, unlike receiving a new bathroom or kitchen.

Negative perceptions can lead to a lack of buy-in from residents, and it’s therefore vital that local authorities and landlords find ways to overcome these

Motivational factors

One of the most crucial ways to challenge neutral and negative perceptions of decarbonisation retrofit works – to ultimately encourage engagement – is to consider the motivational factors for residents.

The main driving force for residents being open to accept retrofit works remains financial, and therefore a focus on the prospect of reduced energy bills should be a key factor for encouraging resident buy-in.

It is however important to note that motivational factors go beyond financial, and health and wellbeing improvements are also hugely important for low income residents. Retrofit programmes offer a series of long term benefits due to overall property improvements, including for physical health. Enhanced air quality and better thermal comfort year-round can help to improve physical health in a number of ways, including the management of chronic conditions.

These works can also have a positive impact on mental health, in part due to reducing the financial burden of the ongoing energy crisis. What’s more, these programmes help to create higher quality homes in general, which feel safer and more comfortable for residents which promotes overall wellbeing.

Examples of these improvements can be found in real-life experiences of residents whose homes have been decarbonised, with feedback Novus has received including the home feeling warmer overall, reduced condensation on windows, the absence of mould, noise reduction due to the installation of triple glazed windows, and feeling safer as a result of more secure windows and doors. It’s important not to underestimate the positive effect evidence-based advantages like these can have in shifting perceptions of reluctant tenants.

Understanding motivational factors is vital for unlocking the potential of decarbonisation retrofit programmes through resident engagement, as it allows local authorities and landlords to build an effective communication strategy.

Managing expectations

While sharing the benefits of retrofit programmes that will appeal to residents is important, communication strategies must also set realistic expectations.

Decarbonisation retrofit programmes are a relatively lengthy process, requiring multiple property visits and consultations before work can commence. With this in mind, early engagement with residents and open, consistent communication throughout the process is key to maintaining buy-in. Furthermore, it can be difficult to quantify specific savings upfront, so it’s important to use more general terms when communicating the financial benefits of the energy efficiency improvement works.

Ensuring resident satisfaction is vital for encouraging acceptance of energy efficiency improvement programmes, and a ‘right first time’ approach is vital. Partnering with a trusted contractor that specialises in carrying out decarbonisation retrofit works can help to achieve this, as expert teams are well-versed in overcoming associated challenges and streamlining processes for the shared goal of creating sustainable homes for the future.