Working towards a Net Zero housing culture for a Net Zero future.

Original Article
August 25th, 2022


Andy Flook, Sava's Development Director

So, the scene is set, a new Net Zero retrofit revolution is about to launch into action with new technologies, fabric first, worst first and all with no regrets… We have a massive challenge in front of us though, and it’s one of culture.

As a country of home-owners and occupants, we have been brought up predominantly with our homes being heated by a gas boiler. So much so that the majority of us most likely have an understanding of what drives our heat and hot water. In fact, most of us are likely to know whether we have a combi or regular boiler. We know that the scheme regulator for this work is Gas Safe (formerly CORGI) and we can jump on the website and find an installer near us and even give an idea of what our preference would be for our new heating appliance.

The point is that our culture has gas heating and hot water deeply engrained into the fabric of our lives. It is likely that we even know at least one heating installer that can install boilers and is Gas Safe registered.

Within our organisations, we will have a high level of knowledge in-house on this type of traditional technology, so our customer service teams, front line staff, maintenance and asset teams already hold some understanding of this area.

Now leaping forward to 2028 (which is not that far away!) where Government have ambitions for us to be installing 600,000 Heat Pumps per year. Do you know many Heat Pump installers? Do you know which type would be best to choose? Do you know the good manufacturers?

It is imperative we overcome all this uncertainty and lack of skills and knowledge if we are truly aiming for a Net Zero culture in the way we live our lives and the way we understand and improve our homes.

In all honesty, tenants are unlikely to have even a high-level appreciation of Heat Pump technology or any areas of innovative new improvement technologies, so there is a good chance that we are going to start to see a bit of ‘Retro-Fear’. People refusing to support these new technologies as they don’t fully understand them or what they are achieving. We need to be explaining what will make a much better insulated home and how installing renewable technologies could save on carbon and on cash.

We must not of course forget that whilst on one hand we have a ‘Net Zero’ focus to work towards better healthier homes, that often any tenant who is struggling to make ends meet and is perhaps under fuel stress of some kind is unlikely to be prioritising carbon impact reduction over their ability to pay fuel bills!

It all comes back to the big project we need to buy into and embark upon, which is to drive skills, education and competency into the fabric of our organisations and on to all of our tenants.

Net Zero isn’t really a target, it’s more of a strategy and even more a behaviour.

So, what ought we be doing right now to start the knowledge ball rolling?

  1. Look within your own organisation. Do you already have ‘champions’ who have skills and knowledge in this space? Run a few internal team sessions to start openly speaking about Net Zero.
  2. PAS2035. Get some members of staff on Retrofit courses to start to build technical knowledge around managing a successful retrofit project.
  3. Shout about the good stuff you’re doing. If you’ve delivered or are in the process of delivering a scheme of works involving carbon reduction and new technologies, tell everyone about it. I don’t mean just on the front page of your regular tenant bulletin showcasing how great you are, more turn it into a module of learning. Explore the case study and encourage education to come from it. For example, film a video of the works done or run a session on how the technology works; this can be done both within your own organisation as well as with tenants. Our aim should be to empower and educate our own staff to the point where knowledge is helping drive their own behaviour towards what they might do to improve their own home. It’s all a much easier sell if we believe it ourselves.
  4. Look to build professional competency within your management team. Understanding the pathology and construction of your portfolio is essential for being able to understand future retrofit opportunities. Look at professional qualifications in this area that give your management team confidence in their own competence. There are many qualifications in this space including Sava’s own Diploma in Residential Surveying and Valuation. Do some research and see what could work for your organisation.
  5. Share the love. If you’ve had a torrid time on a project or you’ve found a little trick that worked great, like creating information sessions for tenants to boost engagement or whatever it might be. If you’ve learnt from that then others can too, either through consortia or word of mouth. Or tell us and we will run some of these ideas of do’s and don’ts on our technical webinars. But let’s not let 500 organisations all make the same mistake, sharing experiences is going to be valuable for us all.