Retrofitting homes is vital to reducing carbon emissions and achieving the UK government's net-zero target. To set the bar on the retrofitting process, RICS is working on a dedicated professional standard.
The Residential retrofit standard will complement other RICS member services such as home surveys and secured lending valuations while providing an independent standard that can be applied to suit individual circumstances.
Currently, UK homes are responsible for around 16% of national carbon emissions due to the use of gas and oil for heating and hot water.
Our reliance on gas is clearly an issue, and the move towards cleaner alternative fuels is a significant part of reducing emissions.
But systems such as electric-powered, air-source heat pumps are not particularly compatible with the UK's domestic building stock, which can be draughty.
Improving the energy efficiency of homes is therefore critical to avoid wasting fossil-fuelled heat in the short term. Moreover, these changes will be beneficial when fossil-fuelled boilers are replaced with cleaner alternatives, not least in terms of reduced energy bills, but also to complement lower temperature space heating systems.
Retrofitting is, then, this process of improving a property's energy efficiency. The way this is done will depend on the client, property, occupancy and budget.
Homeowners who decide against retrofitting could put their property at a market disadvantage, particularly from a valuation and desirability perspective, should they decide to sell at a later date.
So, if the positives outweigh the negatives, why aren't all consumers retrofitting their homes? Part of the reason is that they don't know where to obtain advice, or who to trust when it comes to retrofitting their homes.
If consumers are to retrofit their homes, they need to be able to rely on the expertise of independent, professional advisers. Without advice and oversight from relevant experts, homeowners will not be able to fulfil their best intentions.
RICS members have an important role to play here – particularly those with expertise in surveying residential property – as many surveying skills are easily applied to retrofitting.
For example, the assessment of buildings and accurate condition reporting is vital to any retrofit project. Not adequately identifying defects and features will almost certainly result in problems that, at best, will diminish the effectiveness of the retrofit and, in some cases, result in fundamental issues that require costly resolutions.
The PAS process is widely adopted in the publicly funded retrofit sector but less suited to the owner-occupier or 'able-to-pay' market.
Consumers need the protection of a robust standard which incorporates flexibility and choice if retrofitting is to occur on a national scale.
While some may require an inspection and assessment with a report that outlines the findings and recommended retrofit options, others may look for a bespoke design, procurement, project management and in-depth evaluation. Others still may prefer something in between.
Given the need for flexibility to enable this, the RICS standard will offer a bespoke rather than uniform approach: while the retrofit survey role will be fundamental and therefore necessary, other roles within the process will be optional depending on the client's requirements.
Of course, improving a property's energy efficiency can lead to unintended consequences, such as increasing the potential for damp and mould due to cold bridges or a lack of ventilation, but RICS members will anticipate these and ensure that key elements such as ventilation are built into the design.
Supporting CPD resources for RICS members will also be developed, which will be critical to ensure that they can play their part in retrofitting UK homes. There will also be consumer awareness campaigns about the standard and its application by members, and also about retrofitting more generally.
Work on the Residential retrofit standard commenced earlier this year, and we aim to publish it by the end of 2023.
Anyone affected by the standard should review the draft and provide feedback during the public consultation, which can be accessed online and will close on 12 September 2023. The consultation allows anyone to submit feedback and help shape this much-needed standard.
The reality of retrofitting residential property at scale is a monumental challenge and will require joined-up thinking and cross-sector collaboration, as well as upskilling of property professionals.
Focusing on the strengths of RICS members and providing guidance and resources to support them is a positive move, not only for the profession but also other key stakeholders in the retrofit process who will benefit from the standard and expertise of RICS members.
'The reality of retrofitting residential property at scale is a monumental challenge and will require joined-up thinking and cross-sector collaboration, as well as upskilling of property professionals'
Prof. Sara Wilkinson FRICS, Dr Gill Armstrong, Dr Kusal Nanayakkara, Mark Willers FRICS, Prof. Jua Cilliers and Dr Robert Fleck 08 December 2023