Finding the right builder!

Aneaka Kellay takes a look at the challenges faced by those seeking to find the right retrofit builder. As well as the challenges she looks at what Carbon Co-op is working on to overcome these, including hosting the upcoming Routes to Retrofit course which empowers householders to understand the terrain and navigate the construction industry.

As many of us know, it's hard to find the right builder. Questions I often ask are: who can I trust? Am I going to get ripped off? Where do I find someone good?

For those of us who want to insulate our homes or make other eco-renovations, finding the right builder seems to be doubly hard! Now I'm wondering whether the builder we usually get in understands moisture movement, thermal bridges and cold spots. Will they take care of the detailing? Will they use the right materials? Will they do a good quality job? If not my usual builder, who and where can I find someone else? Checkatrade? Federation of Master Builders?

These are the questions that I'm often asked by Carbon Co-op members and the answer aren't straightforward. One seemingly simple solution that many have called for is a Carbon Co-op approved list of recommended trades people. Unfortunately, we have never been able to fulfil this request as performance and service can change, accrediting is costly and time consuming and there are potential reputational and legal issues that we haven't yet found a way to manage.

Is the industry ready for us?

The mainstream construction industry is not yet ready for private householders looking to undertake eco-renovation work. There are large organisations who have experience with undertaking large scale energy efficiency works on social housing. The quality of works in this sector has been mixed and the industry is still learning. At the level of private householders we've found through previous experience that these companies used to large scale projects are not so good at working on individual properties with their particularities and idiosyncrasies.

Specialist niche contractors also exist. These are smaller companies, sometimes sole-traders who have decided to re-train, sometimes becoming airtightness specialists and have a deeper understanding of retrofit principles. Whilst on the whole this is highly positive, it's worth watching out for what one member termed 'retrofit fanatics'. These are evangelist's who have gone deep into the world of retrofit and surfaced with a belief in one or two technologies or measures they are convinced are right for everyone. It is possible to find those that have a good understanding of retrofit and are willing to listen to your needs. The downside is these builders are like goldust, few and far between, often booked up months or years in advance.

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So, what can we do?

We are currently working, with the support of Friends Provident Foundation, to map the sector. We are investigating what those in the industry call the RMI sector (Repairs, Maintanence and Improvements). These are your handypeople, the small firms and trades who do renovations and extensions et cetera for most private homeowners. If we want to mainstream eco-renovation work, these are the people we need to work with. Our research to date shows that the RMI sector in South Manchester is strong and a good starting point.

In the meantime what does this mean for those of you inspired to make eco-home improvements? While easy answers don't yet exist, our focus has been on empowering you to get the information and confidence you need to make the right choices for your circumstance. This is driving principle behind our home energy training programme. The courses support you at different stages of your home renovation project, from being inspired and wanting to find out more (Beginner's Guide) to sessions that support you to plan and research (Principles of Retrofit) to implementation (Routes to Retrofit) and inspiring others (Retrofit Champions). With a new season of trainings starting it's worth checking out what's coming up carbon.coop/training.

If you are specifically interested in finding trades we highly recommend Routes to Retrofit. This course is run by two highly qualified and experienced industry professionals, Marianne Heaslip (URBED) and Bill Taylor (TAC) who can help you better understand and navigate some of the construction industry issues I've raised in this blog. They cover the topics of creating a brief, finding a team, considering funding, regulations and approvals, planning and building control, health and safety, choosing and appointing builders, writing contracts and more. If this is for you there are a limited number of discounted tickets available for the next course on 6th and 13th October 2018.

We are pioneers!

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While planning and completing high quality eco-renovations may seem like an impossible task there are many Carbon Co-op members who have done it. Some of these members are opening their homes to visitors on the 29th and 30th September 2018, see carboncoop.greenopenhomes.net for more and to book.

While it isn't easy, to meet the challenge of climate change, pioneering Carbon Co-op members are pushing the boundaries and getting retrofit into the mainstream. As put by one inspiring member:

“We're passing these houses on and I would go for retrofit rather than new build because this is the issue in this country, we do need to retrofit, and we are only going to learn from experience, somebody's got to be prepared to go ahead and do it, and hopefully share mistakes.” - Phoebe, member 2018

To find out more see carbon.coop or get in touch with info@carbon.coop.

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