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Fabric First will safeguard heat decarbonisationOctober 2021

Last week we saw the publication of the UK Government’s Heat and Buildings Strategy; a milestone document that will shape the country’s road map to decarbonise heating in buildings. Long awaited, it has come days before the start of the COP26 summit and without revealing any surprises, but it does seem inadequate in the face of addressing the huge task of reducing carbon emissions from buildings.

BSRIA welcomes the Government’s increased focus and support for low-carbon heating technologies and plans for curbing sales of fossil fuel boilers. However, the Heat and Buildings Strategy fails to tackle energy efficiency improvements in buildings on a wide enough scale.  

The strategy concedes that the journey to Net Zero buildings starts with better energy performance and recognises that energy efficiency should be improved by adopting a ‘Fabric First’ approach, which prioritises measures to upgrade building fabric before making changes to the heating systems.

However, the strategy stops short of providing support for measures to upgrade buildings’ fabric to the whole market. The Boiler Upgrade Scheme aims to incentivise early adopters of heat pumps, most likely to be recruited among owner-occupiers of homes. The scheme supports the purchase of some 90,000 heat pumps over three years. However, it does not consider measures that are essentially necessary to improve existing buildings so that they are ready for new installation. The Home Upgrade Grant and Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund address the need of low-income households experiencing fuel poverty. However, owner-occupiers are promised a green finance market, which might mean that mortgage lenders require disclosure of the energy performance of the homes prior to agreed lending, putting most of the onus for energy efficiency improvements on homeowners themselves.

Fabric First and the holistic approach

For the successful mass-deployment of low carbon heating, it is important to understand that buildings need to ‘get ready for low carbon technologies’ by focusing on fabric performance through implementing energy efficiency measures. Steps toward getting low-carbon heating ‘ready’ will require a range of measures, including insulation and heating system controls, while looking at what is affordable and how this can address rising energy costs.

The ‘Fabric First’ approach promotes a holistic view where low-carbon technologies and buildings are considered as one interlinked system. It allows for better consumer buy-in (spreading investment, allowing time for understanding and attitude changes in the minds of end users) and helps avoid a potential product performance gap (efficiency / high operating cost issues).

It will ensure the successful roll-out of low-carbon heating systems not only when they are incentivised but, more importantly, in a way that will endure into the future.

Krystyna Dawson Commercial Director