Almost all our energy efficiency regulations apply only to new buildings, which add a mere 1% to the built environment a year. Today Building opens a campaign to persuade the government to improve the performance of the other 99%. At the moment they're allowed to leak energy like there's no tomorrow. Which, if we don't do something soon, may become a moot point.

The control of carbon dioxide emissions is arguably the most pressing issue facing Britain today. This means that it's also the most pressing issue facing Britain's construction industry. Each year, 300 million tonnes of CO2 are produced as a by-product of heating and powering buildings in the UK. That's equivalent to putting another 100 million cars on the road, or doubling the country's industrial base.

It doesn't have to be like this. The built environment is lavishly oversupplied with energy, most of which it squanders. Heat is lost through uninsulated roofs, floors and cavity walls. It escapes through ill-fitting doors, draughty single-glazed windows and inefficient double-glazed units. It is wasted by obsolete boilers with unlagged pipes and crude controls. The European commission estimates that improving insulation alone would more than halve the amount of fossil fuels that need to be burned to heat and cool our buildings - and that's before we even begin to consider the role of retrofitted technology such as solar heating, or high-efficiency generation systems such as local networks of combined heat and power plants.

In the past four years, the government has used the Building Regulations to increase the energy efficiency of new buildings: anything built in 2006 is 40% more energy efficient than in 2002. But improving new build by ratcheting up Part L is like trying to turn around a supertanker by sticking your arm in the water. One year's new-build represents between 1% and 1.5% of our total stock. That leaves as much as 99% of the problem intact in the first year. By the time we get to 2050, 60% of Britain's buildings will still predate this year's revision to Part L, and 40% will have been constructed before the introduction of Part L in 1985.

The 99% campaign

Another reason that the government has preferred to tackle new-build is that it is an easier nut to crack: regulation is a form of direct control. Not so refurbishment. As Charles Macdonald, buildings strategy manager at the Carbon Trust, points out, "With refurbishment there is a need for market mechanisms to drive emissions reduction".

What's more, there is less political kudos to be gained. Bill Gething, the RIBA's sustainability expert and a partner at Feilden Clegg Bradley, says: "The government has steered clear of the existing stock so far because it's much more difficult, and less sexy, than new-build. But tackling the buildings we have now is crucial if we are going to make a change."

It's true that the government has begun to tackle the problem. Energy performance certificates, announced earlier this month, will be required for all building types by law in early 2007. For residential, they will form part of the Home Information Packs. But, although the industry supports this move, it has become frustrated by the slow progress and lack of detail. It needs clear and consistent information, such as a timetable for implementation, if it is to get to grips with its massive task.

The 99% campaign

That's why we've launched this campaign to find the fastest, best organised ways of improving our existing stock. And to do so, we will be opening the pages of the magazine to our readers. We want to hear your thoughts on how the government and industry should tackle this immense problem. We need your technical advice on the best way to improve everything from council sports centres to City offices to bungalows in Stoke-on-Trent. And we will be looking at what carrots and sticks we have available to persuade owners and tenants to undertake energy improvements, be they business tax breaks, government grants, variations in the council tax or Blue Peter badges.

A host of politicians, industry figures and organisations have already signed up for our 99% Campaign, including Sir Stuart Lipton, Phyllis Starkey MP (chair of the Department for Communities and Local Government select committee), Sir Neville Simms, Peter Rogers, the Construction Products Association, the RICS and the RIBA.

What we want

To improve the energy efficiency of Britain’s existing building stock


  • To provide incentives for owners to improve the energy performance of their buildings, whether through market incentives, taxation, grants, planning or whatever else has a chance of working. Over the next few weeks we will be discussing the options.
  • To provide clear guidance on the energy certification of existing buildings. The industry urgently needs details of the certification methodology so owners can prepare for implementation in 2009. We need a timetable for implementation and we need to start training energy audit inspectors.

Sir Neville Simms, chairman, the Sustainable Procurement Taskforce

“Improving the environmental performance of the existing building stock is vital to meet our carbon targets and it needn’t be difficult. Legislation is in place to bring new-build up to standard, but that leaves nearly 99% of the stock still to tackle. Building’s campaign highlights an important issue that needs to be addressed now.”

Peter Rogers, technical director, Stanhope

“Building has recognised the key issue, unlike government or the Greater London Authority, in that new-build represents no more than 1.5% of the building stock per year. In fact, some 40% of our housing stock is
pre-1940s, so why are we wasting so much effort on initiatives for new buildings that are ineffective?”

Phyllis Starkey MP, chair, Department for Communities and Local Government select committee

“Reducing Britain’s carbon emissions is crucial to our children’s future, and increasing the energy efficiency of our existing housing is essential to our Kyoto targets. I welcome the 99% Campaign and support its aim to make Britain’s housing stock more energy efficient.”

Why we need to tackle the existing stock now

  • If every home in the UK that could installed cavity wall and loft insulation, it would save enough energy to meet the needs of 2.5 million households, save more than £1.5bn and reduce carbon dioxide emission 11 million tonnes a year, or almost 4% of the national total
  • Research for the European commission, published on Monday, estimates that better insulation in homes and offices could cut Europe’s energy use from 6 million barrels of oil a day to 3.3 million barrels
  • Upgrading an old domestic boiler to a modern condensing boiler will save £1740 over the lifetime of the boiler – and 24.2 tonnes of CO²
  • Buildings are responsible for about 44% of carbon emissions in the UK (18% from the non-domestic sector, 26% from the domestic)
  • The government’s Climate Change Programme aims to save 10.2 million tonnes of carbon a year by 2010 – 5.1 million from the business sector, 4.8 from the residential sector and 0.3 from the public sector. It also announced two weeks ago that government offices would be carbon neutral by 2010
  • 60% of the building stock that will be around in 2050 has already been built
  • 40% of the building stock around in 2050 will predate 1985 (when Part L of the Building Regulations was first introduced)