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The time has never been better to look at renewable heating

“UK homes are not fit for the future”. That is the very first line of a report produced by the Committee on Climate Change titled UK Housing: Fit for the Future and published in February of this year.

On a simple level this is an obvious statement. Of course homes built in the past aren’t going to be fit for the future because progress happens and things change.

But, at a much deeper level, the report tells us that we are at a very important, some would say critical, point in the history of planet earth.

I regard myself as a child of the ecological age. When I was a kid in the 1980’s programmes such as Newsround on children’s TV started to talk about harmful CFC gases in aerosols cans, the depletion of the ozone layer, the deforestation of the amazon rainforest and global warming.

I remember my Mam at the time saying “this is all very new”.

I joined the World Wildlife Fund for Nature in my early teens and absorbed myself in issues that threatened the planet. My Mam was a child of the 1960’s, the age of ‘peace, love and happiness’, but sustainability just wasn’t on the national or international agenda.

And then, in the 1970’s, things slowly began to change.

It is like living in a completely different house! Honestly, it is incredible.

George Clarke George Clarke Architect, TV presenter and writer

The right thing to do

Anita Roddick started The Body Shop in Brighton in March1974, exactly 2 months before I was born, with an agenda to sell products made from natural, ethically and sustainably sourced ingredients.

Her anti-waste beliefs meant The Body Shop used simple packaging and she offered fragrance-free refillable bottles.

Way before the Fairtrade movement was formed she made sure her products were ethically sourced from ground level growers rather than commodity brokers. She ensured her products weren’t tested on animals and weren’t synthetic. Anita was a true disrupter and innovator.

Nobody put legislation in place at the time to make her do this, there were no international treaties created to force The Body Shop to be ethical and sustainable.

Anita just saw this as the right thing to do and she made a very successful business out of it. Now, 44 years later health, wellbeing, ecology, packaging, recycling in at the forefront of virtually every single cosmetics company on the planet. Virtually every big organisation I know now has a Head of Sustainability.

What about our homes?

But cosmetic products come and go. We use the product over a period of weeks, it runs out, we throw the packaging away (hopefully in the recycling) and we go and buy a new one to replace it.

We don’t do the same for homes. Homes are more permanent.

Most homes in the UK tend to last over 100 years, if not more. My ‘modernist’ house in West London was built 51 years ago and that is still regarded as being ‘new’ because most of the homes around me are late Victorian and early Edwardian.

We have 29 million existing homes in the UK. The Climate Change report is very clear in what we need to do to meet our carbon emissions targets, which are ambitious and we are unlikely to meet! We have set a target of a 24% reduction on direct CO2 emissions from homes by 2030, from 1990 standards and a 15% reduction in energy used for heating existing buildings by 2030 through efficiency improvements.

I’m going to quote exactly what the Climate Change report says we should do regarding existing homes:

“The 29 million homes across the UK must be made low-carbon, low-energy and resilient to a changing climate. This is a UK infrastructure priority and should be supported as such by HM Treasury.”

Absolute musts

We MUST improve the insulation standards of all existing homes.

We MUST fit triple glazing to all existing homes.

We MUST use low-carbon sources of heating such as heat pumps and heat networks.

Now is the time for you to replace your gas-guzzling, carbon-emitting boilers for a new heating system that uses renewable, clean energy.

Of course all of this has to be paid for, but as the report states, the government need to step up to make this happen through legislation and through supportive funding and financial incentives.

This funding needs to be put in by government, up front, to cover a large proportion of the capital costs of ecological materials and renewable energy products otherwise the vast majority of people simply won’t have the money to fund it.

If the state is going to fund these much needed improvements then they need to work out how they are going to raise the money to do it.

3 simple things

When I bought my 1960’s home it was relatively cold, uninsulated and the heating was provided through a standard combi boiler.

When I refurbished the house, over time I did 3 very simple things. I improved the insulation standards as much as I possibly could in the roof, walls and floors. I couldn’t go as far as a I wanted to because of a number of constraints with the existing house, but I did as much as the building would allow.

I took out all of the single glazed windows and replaced them with triple-glazing.

And more recently I’ve removed the old, inefficient combination boiler and replaced my entire heating system with had a Mitsubishi Electric Ecodan Air Source Heat Pump.

It is like living in a completely different house! Honestly, it is incredible.

The fabric of the house is warm and comfortable because of the insulation and glazing, it is much quieter inside the house (I live in busy West London) because the triple glazing blocks out so much noise and the air source heat pump is simply amazing.

I get all of my domestic hot water for baths, sinks, showers and for my entire heating system from a unit in my garden that simply draws heat from the outside air.

I use no gas and I have no carbon emissions from a boiler. It is brilliant, clean, green and renewable technology.

Time to act now

In my view, the government needs to set new legislation in place for every EXISTING home in Britain to be insulated to an acceptable standard, have triple-glazing and be heated through renewable heat pumps by 2030 AND they need to help us pay for it.

It will improve the health and well-being of our population, it will reduce and possibly even obliterate fuel poverty, as well help the nation achieve its environmental targets. 

I know this is radical (and our government isn’t radical!) and controversial and I’m not saying for one minute that it will be easy, but we know we need to make our existing homes fit for the future and we have the technology available to make it happen.

So, lets stop faffing around, become global ecological innovators and disrupters and get on with it!

George Clarke is an architect, writer, lecturer and TV presenter, a founder of TV production company Amazing Productions, and creative director of George Clarke + Partners. He is also the inspiration behind MOBIE an educational charity which seeks to train and inspire young people to innovate in the design and construction of HOMES in the UK and abroad.