Opinion Piece by David Pierpoint, CEO, The Retrofit Academy CIC
15 July 2021
PAS 2035: A Roadmap to Industrial Scale, High-Quality Retrofit
Visit any retrofit installer at the minute and mention BSI PAS 2035, and there is a good chance you will be shown the door. And understandably so because change is uncomfortable. But give it a few years, and the energy efficiency industry caterpillar may see these crucial few months of transition as the moment it turned into a beautiful butterfly.
BSI PAS 2035 is the new standard for delivering domestic retrofit projects. It was created in response to Each Home Counts – a government-sponsored ‘root and branch review of the sector – that provided some damning evidence on the quality and safety of many retrofit projects delivered under schemes like the Energy Company Obligation (ECIO). It concluded that homeowners and social landlords needed to be protected from an industry addicted to subsidies and grants and mired in a culture of mediocrity (or worse). PAS 2035, also government-sponsored and developed via BSI pan-industry groups, was created to provide the industry with a Code of Conduct. Published in June 2019, the ECO industry has been given two years to transition – a sensible timeframe given the wide-ranging reforms required. Further government-funded schemes such as the Local Authority Delivery Scheme (LADs) and Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF) also require full compliance with the standard, in order to access the multi-millions on offer.
The key aspects of PAS 2035 include:
- The adoption of a consistent process, including initial advice, dwelling assessment, planning and design, installation and evaluation.
- A sensible approach to risk management, with qualified and accredited people taking on specific responsibilities.
- The mandatory involvement of a Retrofit Coordinator to provide cradle-to-grave project management and to ensure PAS 2035 is applied in full.
- The creation of a Medium-Term Retrofit Plan for every property, creating a pathway to Zero Carbon for every home.
In fairness to the rump of the energy efficiency industry, the majority have invested time, money and effort to make the transition. But there is a worrying amount of ‘gaming the PAS’ going on – people and accreditation schemes interpreting the PAS, identifying supposed loopholes and conceiving some frankly bizarre workarounds. TrustMark, the overseers of a new quality assurance regime, will have their work cut out trying to police this race to the bottom, even if it is happening in plain view on various social media forums.
The reality of retrofit is this: we have 27 million homes to retrofit in less than 30 years. By retrofit, we mean reducing heat and energy demand from those homes to as low a position as it is practical, economic and sustainable to do so. Often this will involve cuts in C02 emissions of at least 60% and in many cases more than 80%. Achieving this is challenging and cannot be done without a coherent plan. We know enough about retrofit to know that doing it badly is usually worse than doing nothing at all. It results in unintended consequences such as damp, mould and a residual performance gap. Delivering a Net Zero housing stock at a super-industrial scale, while being bogged down in endless snagging, is impossible.
The ‘race to the bottom represents a threat to this mission because it turns the PAS into a tick-box exercise that enables access to funding, rather than it being the means of protecting householders it is supposed to be. This is perhaps an inevitability when funding is made available without it being entirely aligned with new standards. So, we need to cut the industry a little slack (but not too much) and provide it with appropriate support. At the same time, we need to create the pathfinders that plot the course for a ‘race to the top’ too. Here at The Retrofit Academy CIC, for example, we are working with the Northwest Energy Hub (BEIS’ local agency in the region), to trial a new approach where assessment and coordination of projects can be done independently of contractors, who are in turn brought in to deliver as per the agreed sequence and specification. We will share the findings from this project with every local authority in the UK, with a view to providing an alternative approach to LADs schemes.
The other crucial factor in enabling a ‘race to the top’, is ensuring there is a sufficient volume of qualified, competent and accredited people nationwide. We know there is a massive skills gap, as recent research suggests this could be as large as 200-300 thousand people over the next decade. Again, progress is slower than it needs to be on this front. Retrofit Coordinator and Retrofit Assessor numbers are in the hundreds – although there is still latent capacity. One of the ways The Retrofit Academy CIC are supporting government programmes is to connect the competent Coordinators with the local authorities and contractors working on LADs and SHDF projects. Once again, there is a need for national, regional and local leaders around the issue. We are working with Andy Burnham’s Greater Manchester Retrofit Taskforce, and there is already a commitment to a £1.1m Retrofit Skills Hub that we are part of, working with a range of colleges and training providers in the region. We are also delivering two projects through the Community Renewal Fund (CRF) to create training capacity and capability regionally. But MUCH MORE needs to happen quickly so the skills issue does not become the elephant in the room.
The Whole House Retrofit area returns to Futurebuild 2022 in partnership with Osmosis and The Retrofit Academy. Whole House Retrofit will offer a showcase for the solutions and services that can underpin whole house retrofit at scale. Find more information here and contact us to enquire about showcasing your innovation at Futurebuild 2022.