A pot of £70m is being distributed to bring empty properties into use - and what better opportunity to undertake a deep low carbon retrofit?

On 5 March the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) confirmed Empty Homes funding for 95 registered housing providers and local authorities to deliver over 5,600 new affordable homes by bringing empty properties back into use, distributing a pot of £70m. But the rehabilitation standards, while referencing energy efficiency, do not demand a deep low carbon retrofit, which is a lost opportunity.

When is there a better time to undertake a deep retrofit than when a dwelling is void rather than with in-situ residents?

The standards required to qualify for funding are as set out in the April 2007 ‘Design and quality standards’ which were inherited by the HCA from the Housing Corporation. The standards relevant to the Empty Homes ‘pot’ are the rehabilitation standards which refer to the modified HQI (Housing Quality Indicators) and the matrix contained within Good Practice Guide 155 ‘Energy efficient refurbishment of existing housing’ (which is now superseded by EST’s CE309 ‘Sustainable Refurbishment’).

When is there a better time to undertake a deep retrofit than when a dwelling is void rather than with in-situ residents? The HCA is in an impossible position whereby the new administration effectively halted the implementation of its new standards eighteen months ago, the Harman Review (the findings of a key group looking at reducing the complexity of home building standards and the impact regulations have on the industry) is not yet complete, and Part L 2013 (which would demand consequential improvements but only for extension or additional habitable area) is not yet in place.

The retrofit market is in a state of limbo, with BREEAM Domestic Refurbishment yet to be formally launched. The only ‘stick’ to require energy efficiency improvements is the risk of still having F or G rental properties post 2018, when the Energy Act will make it illegal for these to be rented.

All is not lost though. With some imagination and forward thinking, energy efficiency can still play an important part in any retrofit, looking beyond compliance at the benefits to the landlord and their tenants.  PRP is currently undertaking a lot of work in relation to low carbon retrofit and we are keen to explore with recipients of the Empty Homes Fund how the energy performance and affordable warmth provision can be maximised with the available funds or with additional funds from energy companies. There is scope to extend expectations while remaining viable.

Mel Starrs is associate director at PRP Architects