How to work with a fabric-first philosophy

In its Perspective and Pathways paper published in 2021, the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) estimated that there were 29 million buildings in the UK requiring retrofit. Despite this, the industry still lacks a long-term, funded retrofit strategy.   

That said, there are initiatives such as the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme (PSDS), Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS), ECO4 and the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF) to help clients in the public sector on the path to a net zero future.  

These schemes stipulate a fabric-first approach to retrofit, whereby the focus is on reducing the heating demand of a property before installing a new heating system or energy system. It is about maximising the airtightness and insulation of the property as much as possible. Common measures include fitting insulation in walls, lofts and floors and installing energy-efficient windows and doors. 

Here, we’ve broken down the steps you should take to successfully execute a fabric-first strategy.     


Start with data  

When embarking on a retrofit programme, it’s crucial to start by gaining a clear understanding of your housing stock by analysing all the data available to you. This will help to identify properties that are in the mofor retrofit and understand which measures are going to achieve the best results and ensure maximum return on investment.  

Where the data has gaps or there are concerns about its accuracy, it’s important to address this first so you are making fully informed decisions about where to focus your resource and investment to maximise impact. This may require engaging with external retrofit assessors where there is no in-house capability or capacity in the timescales required. 


Agree outcomes 

The next logical step after analysing your data is to determine some measurable targets to create a high-level delivery plan and decide the most suitable procurement approach. From your data, you will a good idea of your housing stock’s baseline energy efficiency performance, which can be used to inform target outcomes. 

You’ll need to consider what sort of criteria you need to align with, particularly as external funders will have their own by which they measure the effectiveness of their funding.  


Pinpoint properties 

Once you’ve gathered all the information and set some key objectives, you’ll need to decide which properties to target, and how. For example, will you tackle them by building type, geographical area, or by specific EPC ratings? It may not be just one criterion that influences the programme but being clear on this will help identify where the investment is focused. 

However it’s done, your process for selecting should be logical and transparent and, of course, align with your organisation’s strategy.  

Think about it long term, too: is your method of choosing properties easily repeatable and scalable?  


Establish an appropriate team 

Most publicly funded programmes require you to comply with PAS 2035 standards and therefore enlist the help of a retrofit coordinator. That said, it’s good practice to appoint one, or an architect or RICS surveyor, no matter how the project is being funded. By assembling an appropriate project team, you can consider all aspects of the project and ensure smooth operations.  


Don’t neglect residents 

Without question, you should establish a good resident engagement strategy alongside your retrofit strategy. All retrofit projects will involve some degree of working in occupied properties and residents don’t like to feel like they have no control over major decisions for their homes. Therefore, it’s wise to consider retrofit as something that is being done with and for people – it’s about more than the building. 

There is much debate surrounding how best to engage with residents but some solid principles to follow are to start early and be as clear and transparent as possible. The important thing is there’s no single approach. You need to think who your residents are, when they are likely to be available, and what the best method and medium of communication might be. It’s also worth trying to simplify details as much as possible to aid residents’ understanding.   


Collaboration is needed too   

If done right, the preliminary design should allow you to avoid costly consequences further down the line. Review the plan of action against the agreed outcomes to ensure they are aligned, consider budget and funding, and establish the level of disruption that’s acceptable.  

Collaboration with the supply chain is crucial in this as well. Engaging with contractors early to discuss each project and involving them in the design process will help to identify and remove potential risks at the earliest opportunity.  


How using an LHC framework can help 

Opting to fulfill retrofit work using our free-to-use public sector frameworks allows you to appoint experienced and trusted contractors much faster and easier. This is because you don’t have to go through the full tendering process every time.  

Companies appointed to our frameworks undergo a rigorous assessment to ensure they are suitable for the workstreams they apply for.  

What’s more, you can benefit from our expertise, informed by over 50 years’ experience in the public sector – and 30 years in energy efficiency specifically – from the beginning to end of your project. We have a dedicated team which operates from our centre of technical excellence that provide support throughout the duration of your project. 


Our upcoming energy efficiency framework 

Our upcoming Decarbonisation and Retrofit (N9) framework will assist public sector organisations in overcoming the hurdles of decarbonisation – including the mammoth task of retrofitting the UK’s existing building stock.    

It will offer a suite of energy efficiency and decarbonisation solutions, including consultancy services. Anticipated to launch in mid-2024, N9 holds significant importance in the journey towards achieving net carbon zero. 

As part of the crucial pre-tender engagement process for the framework, we are hosting our inaugural Retrofit for a Net Zero Future Conference 

It will bring together a plethora of UK construction industry leaders, innovators and experts, alongside public sector suppliers, to discuss broad perspectives on retrofitting at scale to decarbonise the UK's existing built environment and deliver a net zero future. 

Join us at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Birmingham on 28 February. Register for your free ticket via Eventbrite 

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