Green building chief’s vision for “refurbishment revolution”

Recent temperatures in the UK and elsewhere give an indication of what life will be like much more frequently unless we get to grips with the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

Shrinking ice sheets and images of polar bears might attract the headlines.

But it will be premature deaths through heat stroke and respiratory problems, failed harvests, wildfires, social disorder and mass migration that will make climate change a reality for people across the globe.

People have started to get this message. But it is a pretty depressing one, which is not a great spur to action.

Most of us think there is very little we can do; climate change is a global problem, and starting a revolution in our living room is not going to change the world, right?


In the UK, 27% of carbon dioxide emissions come from the energy we use to heat (and light) our homes.

It is not only carbon that’s going out of the window – and for that matter the roof, walls and floor – it is our hard earned money.

But imagine if we could transform our homes from leaky, draughty places that guzzle energy, into more comfortable, brighter, places – warmer in winter and cooler in summer – with smaller bills.

Imagine if we could do that without it costing consumers a penny, or landing a hefty bill at the government’s door.

And in the process, also create thousands of new jobs in green home refurbishment.

Unrealistic? Not necessarily.

The UK Green Building Council is demanding that the government – either this one or the next – should introduce a scheme that will kick-start this refurbishment revolution.

It is called "Pay As You Save". It’s based on a simple premise: that the cost of installing energy efficiency measures be funded through the future savings made on that household’s energy bills.

So how does it work? The majority of home energy efficiency measures pay for themselves over a period of time.

Some are quite cheap, such as loft and cavity wall insulation or low-energy lighting.

But others are more expensive, such as suspended wooden floor insulation, new A-rated boilers and particularly solid wall insulation.

Most of us put off installing these measures, particularly the more expensive ones, because we do not think we will get the benefit. It just costs too much upfront; and given we move house, on average, every seven years, why bother?

Pay As You Save is designed to address this problem. Firstly, the upfront cost of measures, for example £10,000, is put up by a third party (such as a bank, retailer or local authority), not the consumer.

Next, your home gets its makeover, carried out by trained and accredited builders, and as a result energy usage is slashed by around half.

Then, from the savings on energy bills, a "standing charge" is repaid, every month, until the original lump sum (plus some interest) has been paid off.

The trick is to structure the scheme so the householder, or tenant for that matter, starts saving money from day one, and always saves more each month than they pay back.

The other key part of the package that enables this to work is that the monthly charge is attached not to the person, but to the property itself and would be paid off over a period of 25 years.

So when the householder moves on, the home’s new occupant continues to repay the charge – and recoups more than that in savings.

Of course, this won’t happen overnight.

It will take time to scale up the scheme, to ensure that we have enough trained builders that people can have confidence in, and to establish a network of trusted information providers who can help people access finance and guide them through the process.

But our research shows you could refurbish 50,000 homes next year, double that the year after that, double again the year after that and keep on going until we have refurbished seven million homes by 2020.

We know government is interested – they said this was an "option" in a recent consultation document. We know the opposition parties support the principles of such a scheme.

All that is needed is to get on with it!

If you don’t believe me, hear it from Mr Grand Designs himself, Kevin McCloud.

The tsar of the designer home reckons this is the next big thing to get worked up about. That’s why he is leading the Great British Refurb campaign.

So go to the campaign’s website and tell Gordon Brown you’d like to go green, and can he please get that insulation out of his ears.

A few tweaks to legislation are all that is needed; the market will then kick in, supply the money, the workforce and the products – all of which already exist.

We just need a bit of leadership. One thing’s for sure; if we don’t start a revolution in our living rooms soon, we’re all going to cook.

Have your say on this story using the comment section below.