Open mike — A refurbishment revolution is needed if we stand any chance of cutting carbon 60% by 2050. And it may have just begun in a stable in Watford … Kate Symons explains

As 90% of today’s homes will still be standing in 2050, it is essential they are refurbished to a high standard if the UK is to stand any chance of meeting its target of a 60% cut in carbon emissions by that date. And while there are many demonstration projects out there, I wonder whether we are missing a trick by working in isolation.

At the moment, there are no national guidelines for comprehensive refurbishment, and no agreed standards for the industry to follow. There is information for partial refurbishments and specific agendas but little that addresses the total picture. So my heart sinks each time someone rushes up and tells me they are setting up a demonstration project to show how refurbishment should be done.

Yes, we’ve got to act now, and quickly, to make the UK’s 25 million homes as sustainable as possible. But there is still a lot to learn about the best way to go about refurbishment, which materials are most suitable, for example, or what we should be measuring.

That’s why we’ve launched Rethinking Housing Refurbishment. Through the lessons we learn and the best practice guidance and performance data that emerges, we’ll be able to share with the construction community a huge amount of new information.

Rethinking Housing Refurbishment’s flagship project is the transformation of a solid wall Victorian stable block on the BRE site at Watford into three energy-efficient homes. The finished building will include a new annexe housing an information centre and training facilities with craft workshops.

I am appealing to anyone thinking of setting up a demonstration housing refurbishment project to work with us. Whether it’s a local authority, housing association or developer, let’s share our knowledge and resources so we can capitalise on our experiences.

My heart sinks each time someone rushes up and tells me they are setting up a demonstration project to show how refurbishment should be done

Before joining BRE a year ago, I worked in the housing industry, across the tenure spectrum including development and asset management with major registered social landlords. I’ve seen the state of some of our housing stock which is crying out for sympathetic and pragmatic refurbishment. Rather than knock down these older homes which form part of our national heritage, we can bring them close to the energy efficiency and low carbon levels of the homes currently being built. That is why Rethinking Housing Refurbishment is so exciting. It helps us to establish a raft of guidance for the ways in which we renovate and refurbish.

It’s a big challenge, so we’ve pulled together a team drawn from across the construction industry, including Wates Living Space, EC Harris, the Prince’s Foundation, PRP Architects and the East of England Development Agency. In addition, we are drawing on the expertise of building professionals from within BRE. The housing market renewal pathfinder agencies and East Thames Group have come on board to work with us on other flagship refurbishment projects, including back-to-backs, terraced houses and listed heritage buildings.

The stable block project adopts a pragmatic theme of ‘doing what is best for the building’. It embraces innovation that can assist with the hard practicalities of applying the refurbishment agenda to the extensive variety of the existing UK housing stock. The main considerations are environmental impact, including energy efficiency and energy consumption in use, waste management, retention of elements (where possible) as part of the conservation approach, value through durability and whole life, flexible spaces, reduction in water consumption, and provision of technologies for 21st-century living.

But we don’t want to work in isolation. So share your experiences with us, follow our progress on the website and look out for the information and guidance that will emerge in a year’s time. This project can improve the energy performance of thousands of homes and avoid the wholesale waste of resources that comes from demolition.