- What is the Great Homes Upgrade calling for?
The Great Homes Upgrade is a campaign for a large-scale, UK-wide programme of upgrading our leaky, inefficient homes. It would be funded by the UK government, but managed mainly through local authorities and other local organisations. This would make sure that everyone can make sure their home is well-insulated and heated by clean, green energy — regardless of whether we rent a flat or own a castle.
We want the government to commit to bring every home in the UK up to a good standard by 2030 — that means upgrading 7m homes by 2025 and 19m by 2030. We’re calling for the government’s first step to be upgrading millions of social homes over the next decade. This should be followed by support for people who own their own homes and for homes that are privately rented.
Read the New Economics Foundation’s report.
- What is retrofitting?
Upgrading our homes, also known as ‘retrofitting’, is the process of installing new features in a building which has already been built. Retrofitting a draughty home has two aspects. First, we can make housing more energy efficient through things like better insulation and double- or triple-glazed windows. Second, we can replace dirty fossil-fuel heating, like gas boilers, with clean alternatives, like heat pumps. Retrofitting in this way means that our houses aren’t heated with polluting fuels like gas, and don’t waste as much energy.
- Why do we need to upgrade our homes?
Housing in the UK is leaky and draughty. We have older housing than every EU country, and our homes leak heat three times faster than those in Northern Europe. 19m of the 27m homes in the UK fall below a good level of energy efficiency (EPC rating C) — that’s 70%! This means we spend more money and energy keeping our homes warm. For those who can afford to, this leads to higher carbon emissions from burning fuel for heating — 14% of the UK’s total emissions come from our homes. For the 3.18 million UK households (13.4%) that can’t, living in a cold home could be putting their health at risk.
Upgrading our homes would mean that everyone can live in a warm, comfortable home that doesn’t pollute the planet. But for more than a decade, we’ve had stop-start policy when it comes to making our homes warmer and less polluting. The main problem is the Treasury’s reluctance to put proper money towards retrofitting. Right now, home upgrades are still just in the hundreds of thousands a year — just 118,000 insulation measures were installed in 2020.
- Can we retrofit any kind of building?
You can retrofit any kind of building — but some are more difficult than others. Homes around the country have different sizes, shapes, occupants and owners, so a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. That’s why we think the government should initially focus on social housing: social landlords often own entire streets, blocks and estates, so we could upgrade whole areas at once. This would make it easier to use retrofitting technologies which you have to install at a large scale, like insulating building facades. Social landlords could also carry out home upgrades at the same time as other repairs, which would mean less disruption for the people living there. That’s why local authorities, not the national government, are the best placed to manage this process. But if local authorities are going to be able to take this on, they will need much more financial support from the UK government.
- How much will it cost?
The government needs to spend an additional £11.7bn over the next three years in order to lay the tracks for us to upgrade 7m homes by 2025 and 19m by 2030. This would mean £7bn extra for energy-efficiency measures like insulation, and £4.7bn extra for replacing dirty gas boilers with heat pumps. This needs to be on top of the spending which the government has already committed to: £5.8bn for energy efficiency improvement and around £350m for low-carbon heating like heat pumps.
Beginning with government investment is important because it builds up skills and supply chains, driving down the price of home upgrades. But over the medium-term, the Great Homes Upgrade will need to be paid for with money from both the government and private companies. Private money can be unlocked with things like tax and regulations. Combined, we will need to invest £35.6bn through the course of this parliament, with £28.3bn on energy efficiency and £7.3bn on low-carbon heating.
- How much money could a home upgrade save families?
Because different households have different habits and lifestyles, it’s difficult to accurately estimate the amount that they could save if they had a home upgrade. The highest standard of whole-house retrofits can mean that households only have their heating on for a few days a year. However, the Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group (EEIG) estimates that if all homes were upgraded to the EPC C efficiency band, households could save £400 each on average — that’s £7.5bn total savings across the whole country by 2030. Plus, if our homes are less reliant on fossil fuels, then households will be insulated against sudden rises in energy prices.
- How many jobs could the Great Homes Upgrade create?
With proper investment from the government and companies, the Great Homes Upgrade could directly create at least 190,000 jobs across the UK. Other estimates vary quite widely, but all suggest that we could create hundreds of thousands of jobs. The Construction Leadership Council estimates that upgrading 12m homes by 2030 could create nearly 500,000 jobs. A key part of the Great Homes Upgrade should be training up tens of thousands of people to fill these jobs. And because there are homes in need of upgrading all over the country, these jobs wouldn’t be limited to one region. This means new, secure, well-paid, long-term jobs making our homes and local areas healthier and happier places to live in.
- What is an EPC rating — and is EPC C good enough?
EPC stands for ‘Energy Performance Certificate’, and it rates how energy efficient a building is. Buildings can be rated from A (very energy efficient) to G (not energy efficient). It is illegal to privately let a property that has an EPC rating below E, and a government consultation recently recommended raising this standing to C by 2028.
The Great Homes Upgrade wants the government to commit to bring all UK homes up to an EPC rating C or above by 2030. Currently there are 19m homes which fall below EPC rating C. Most homes can be upgraded to this standard through established measures like double-glazing and cavity wall, loft or solid insulation.