Crawley Borough Council Net-Zero Retrofit Scheme

Our client Crawley Borough Council blogged about their experiences of working with NetZero Collective to design fabric-first solutions to decarbonising their housing portfolio in Carbon Copy. Check out their thoughts below.

Our story

At Crawley Borough Council, we have declared a climate emergency and a key part of our net-zero action plan is housing, which represents 15% of all carbon emissions in the UK. To begin to understand and effectively implement decarbonisation of our housing stock, we partnered with NetZero Collective to research, design, and install energy-saving measures and technology in ten council-owned homes. The project is not only helping to reduce carbon but to bring down energy bills and create warmer, more comfortable homes for social tenants.

The NetZero Collective brings together property owners, industry partners, and academic bodies to design fabric-first solutions for the decarbonisation of UK buildings. We were one of the first local authorities to join the group whose partners include Liberty Group, the University of Southampton, Vaillant, and Powervault.

We began by reaching out to tenants, to see who would like to be involved in the retrofitting scheme. The marketing went out just after COP26, and we had a huge influx of responses – we currently have over 360 households registered as volunteers. To decide which houses we would look at as part of the pilot stage of the initiative, we chose 10 properties that reflected typical Crawley housing stock, much of which was built in the 1950s.

The next stage was monitoring the selected properties for 6 months, this gave us an accurate picture of temperature, humidity, and energy usage patterns. Data for each home was shared with the University of Southampton who recommended optimal retrofitting measures along with estimated carbon and energy cost savings per household.

In partnership with NetZero Collective, we tailored retrofitting measures to reflect the unique needs of each property, but a typical installation included solar PV, an air source heat pump, upgraded radiators, insulation, and battery storage. All of the data from the new technology is monitored to show the real impact of each retrofit.

Installation work started in October 2021 and was carried out by local contractors and subcontractors. Our council team is also working with the local college to promote green skills training. This will support local employment and supply chains, ensuring that Crawley has access to the unique skills it needs to meet ambitious net-zero targets.

Responses from tenants involved in the scheme have been very positive. The scale of the works undertaken does require a large amount of disruption, but, by taking a whole-house approach, we can demonstrate significant energy savings and create comfortable, well-heated homes.

Learnings from the pilot scheme will be used to shape the next wave of the project and funding applications are currently underway. We aim to increase the number of retrofitted properties to 50 per year in the near future, growing to 200 a year over time.

Our advice

Bring tenants along with you – From start to finish, our tenants’ understanding, involvement, and energy-saving commitment have been key to successful installations. Close communication with tenants was vital from the start and throughout the process so they understood the changes being made and the technology being installed. We also used the involvement of our local Tenants and Leaseholders Action Panel, who had sight of the full process we had developed for the installations.

Think about contractor coordination – In some of our properties, it took nearly seven different trades from four different contractors to complete the works, including ground workers, scaffolders, electricians, gas engineers, painters, insulation fitters, and kitchen fitters. In the future, we would consider a team of contractors focused on post-installation repairs which are important to tenants and for completing the process.

Consider every aspect of the project – From having a deep understanding of tenancy agreements to enable solar battery installation to ensuring tenants’ pets were cared for during disruptive works, projects on this scale have a lot of moving parts and it’s important to take a holistic view of all the support and information you need.

Remember, there is no such thing as a standard tenant or a standard home – Every property and household is very different, and this means we couldn’t use a single template across every property. It was important to adapt our approach to meet unique needs.

Our metrics

Temperature, energy, and humidity monitors. All data is analysed – both pre and post-installation – to demonstrate efficiency.
Energy usage for both KWh and costs from previous tenant billing to prove the effectiveness of the works.
Monitoring will be ongoing to understand continued effectiveness and identify any servicing or maintenance needs.
Carbon savings are calculated for each property.
We will complete new EPC ratings to understand the success of retrofits.

Read more at Carbon Copy here.