Putting installers at the forefront of energy-efficiency retrofit

Installers should be the central focus of future policymaking in the energy-efficiency retrofit market

Finding the key to unlock the true potential of the green economy is something that has eluded numerous UK Governments.

Whether through unsuccessful initiatives or lack of political will, successive cabinets have fallen short of a long-term solution to catalyse sustainable growth in renewables. But have they been looking in the right places? Could a shift of focus hold the answer?

In the wake of the Green Deal’s demise, a new report from researchers at the University of Leeds and independent sustainability charity the SevernWye Energy Agency has been published to identify how mainstream building and allied trades could help accelerate the low-carbon retrofit of the UK's private housing stock.

Using in-depth qualitative insights sourced from the businesses of 38 trade installers, they focused on how and why tradespeople work in the way they do, setting the foundations to consider the issues the Government should take into consideration when designing new retrofit energy efficiency policies.

It found that installers work predominantly in their local area and often have strong local networks of allied tradespeople they can bring in on certain jobs. They often have to guide and advise customers on the best products and installation designs. They are acutely aware of their responsibility to manage risk effectively and ensure quality for their customers. Access to the right qualifications and accreditations is important, and regulations and incentives have a significant impact on the way they work.

On this basis, the report recommends keeping the delivery of retrofit projects at a local level, emphasises the importance of home energy assessments and independent guidance, highlights the role suppliers can play in providing training and advice and points to the importance of appropriate on-site protocols.

It also emphasises the importance of ensuring accreditation systems are not overly complex and do not overlap, but do have the endorsement of the public sector. And finally, it notes the essential role Building Control must play in enforcement and education.

The message conveyed by the report is remarkably simple. Policy makers need to understand the way installers work and how they are affected by political decisions, supply issues, relationships with manufacturers and much more besides.

They need to support localised action, matching protection for consumers with protection for small businesses. They also need to support good practice, because, the reality is that SMEs across the UK make up the primary delivery system for the retrofit market.

And it makes sense. Installers are the true trailblazers of our transition to a more sustainable future, the boots on the ground, and it is only by successfully incentivising a healthy and sustainable green economy at the grass roots that the rest will follow.

Commenting on the prospect of a replacement for the Green Deal, Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: “The department now needs to be more realistic about consumers’ and suppliers’ motivations when designing schemes in future, to ensure it achieves its aims.”

According to one spokesperson, the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) is now designing a new scheme to “make even more homes warmer and bring peoples bills down”. When it does, we hope it considers not only the motivations of consumers and suppliers but also those of installers, the primary catalysts for a greener future and for growth across the whole home improvement market.

Frank Bertie is chairman of NAPIT — National Association of Professional Inspectors & Testers.

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