Greener homes and climate policy

With home ownership comes the responsibility of maintaining the fabric of the building to ensure it keeps its inhabitants warm and dry.  Our renovation decisions are motivated by what we want to achieve and what is within our financial means.  But how do we know the changes we make are climate-friendly too?  Deciphering what is good for ourselves and the environment is not always easy to determine, and how do we get there if our finances do not stretch that far?  This lack of knowledge is a challenge for homeowners.

Heating and powering homes contribute to 14% of greenhouse gas emissions – a sizeable chunk that needs addressing.  To mitigate climate change, we must become more energy efficient and derive energy from renewable sources.  The UK housing stock is poor compared to other developed nations, with leaky homes requiring insulation of lofts and walls.  Gas boilers need phasing out, and electric heat pump installation needs to rise.  If ever there was a time for using less energy, it is now, as the cost-of-living crisis impinges many people’s lives, with some families facing a truly horrible time.  

energy efficiency in homes

There has yet to be clear guidance from the government on how homeowners can retrofit their homes to make them more climate-friendly and energy efficient.  Initiatives such as the Green Homes Grant in 2020 (a scheme withdrawn after 6-months) and the Green Deal Loan Scheme in 2015 have been unsuccessful.  The current hands-off approach by the government, hoping the market will drive change towards greener homes, is yet to deliver the necessary changes.

Citizens’ panel

On the podcast, I spoke with two people involved in a citizens’ panel specifically aimed to explore what would help homeowners to retrofit their homes.  This panel was part of a project on public engagement and climate change organised by Lancaster University in collaboration with the Climate Change Committee (CCC, statutory advisors to the government).  They selected a panel of 24 citizens, representative of a wider demographic on age, ethnicity, housing type and attitudes towards climate change.

Following recruitment, the panel met for 7 sessions, covering 25 hours (5 online evenings and 2 in-person all-day events).  Experts shared information on climate change, sources of emissions and how buildings contribute to them.  Through facilitated deliberation, panellists used their lived experience as homeowners to devise a complete package of support.  

Key messages to policymakers

Proposed ideas were built around the cycle of home ownership, covering buying, living in the home, and renovating it.  Here are the key messages they put forward for policymakers.

  • Raising awareness – although homeowners are concerned about climate change, this is not a sufficient motivator to make changes.  They need to understand that renovation can save them money on energy bills and make their homes more comfortable.
  • Gaining reliable knowledge – housing is varied, and people need access to bespoke advice; an independent service would be helpful.  A logbook could supply home buyers with information on what renovations were required and show relevant costs and benefits.
  • Financial support – even those homeowners not in fuel poverty will need financial support to make renovations through vehicles such as low-interest loans and grants.
  •  Trustworthy tradespeople – there needs to be a solid supply chain and workforce available to homeowners for completing renovations.
  • A range of schemes – different stages of home ownership will require distinct support, for example:
    • A stamp duty rebate for energy improvements when buying a home.
    • Mortgage rate discounts to reward those who have made energy improvements on their previous home.
    • Low-interest loans for retrofitting.
  • Gas boiler regulation – timely regulation to disincentivise gas boilers is needed.
  • Alternative energy tariffs – these could reward people for saving energy.

 The complete findings can be found here.

New policy

These ideas are very much in line with more traditional analyses, strengthening the CCC’s recommendations to the government.  The panel demonstrated public deliberation is a helpful way to inform policy-making.  Additionally, people are more likely to accept and take on change when considered in the policy-making process.  It is time, I think, for clear messaging and support to homeowners from the government, so it will be interesting to see if action follows.