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Ariane Burgess: All of us will have to play a part in bringing our homes up to standard


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Holyrood Notebook by Ariane Burgess

Retrofitting all of our homes will be a huge task.
Retrofitting all of our homes will be a huge task.

The past few years brought those of us fortunate to have a home greater connection with it as we learned to work from it in response to the arrival of the pandemic at our door. Many of us entered the Great Clear Out or the Great Redecorate.

Our homes will continue to be a focal point as we enter the Great Retrofit and Refurb in the coming years. Our homes expend lots of energy for all the things we do, especially heating, but also how far we travel to and from home to meet our needs.

And with that energy use comes carbon emissions that contribute to the rising global temperatures. There is urgent work to be done over the next 10 years to lower the carbon emissions that come from the way we live in our homes.

This need to transition our homes from being high carbon emitters to net zero is so crucial that in parliament at my committee on local government, housing and planning, we recently took evidence on how we can all do that through retrofitting our existing homes. Those of us living in an existing home are necessarily going to be involved – whether we rent or own our homes.

Like all of Scotland, Caithness has a diverse housing stock, from the mix of pre-war stone houses and more modern bungalows that line Thurso’s cliffs to the landward and coastline croft cottages, each type of housing will have to be retrofitted.

As part of the committee’s process of taking evidence, we visited a retrofit demonstration project in Glasgow. The Niddrie Road tenement is being retrofitted to the energy saving standard EnerPHit. Although tenements are not a typical housing type in Caithness, the principles are the same.

If you have heard of the energy saving standard for houses, Passivhaus, this is an existing homes retrofit version. EnerPhit is a high standard that some feel will be hard to reach for all housing stock in Scotland. The Association for Environment Conscious Building offers another retrofit standard that could be more rapidly achievable.

Whichever standard we adopt, the message is clear, we must take a “fabric first” approach. When responding to the need to reduce our carbon emissions, the tendency is to think about changing our heating system to a renewable form. Still, even before that, we must think about the fabric of the building.

We could install the best renewable energy heating system but, if our homes are poorly insulated, we will still have to expend energy to heat them.

We will all have to engage with the national retrofitting project in coming years. There are many variables, but if we approach it together, we could all learn from and support each other.

Fortunately, many people who work in the housing and home energy sectors are already putting good thought into tackling this transformation. There is work to do in considering the supply chain for materials and ensuring enough people are trained with the appropriate skills and understanding to do the work.

I know it has been frustrating for some of you who want to get on with it as the pathway for doing this work has not been fully defined yet. I will continue to work with the government and in January will lead a debate on retrofitting calling for a clear pathway that makes retrofitting more accessible for us to all play our part in the national home retrofit project.

Green MSP Ariane Burgess.
Green MSP Ariane Burgess.
  • Ariane Burgess is a Green MSP for the Highlands and Islands.

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