Top Tips for Whole House Retrofit (via YouGen)

Cathy, from the rather excellent YouGen blog asked to to share our top tips on whole house retrofit as gathered from the Community Green Deal project. Read the full blog here: http://www.yougen.co.uk/blog-entry/2526/Ten+top+tips+for+major+energy+saving+home+improvements/ or read the tips below.

1. Set out your priorities from the start 

An understanding of your priorities will assist in the delivery of the project. Some people have a budget to work to, others may be working to a date or deadline, but for most high quality in terms of built performance reduced carbon emissions and fuel bills is key – as well as factors like aesthetics and comfort. Understanding this and articulating it for yourself and your team will assist decisions later and inform you on where you can compromise and where you shouldn’t if you want to meet your priorities. And compromises somewhere along the way will almost always be necessary!

2. Assess current energy performance

Most people we work with say the same things, 'Where do I start, what do I do first?' A thorough energy performance assessment will help you understand where most heat is lost in your home and where the 'big ticket' improvements lie. Some people have the skills to self assess, others will need to employ an assessor, but beware, Green Deal Assessments are crude and imprecise so look out for more comprehensive services! 

3. Get the right advisors and contractors for the job 

You may have all the skills necessary for a whole house retrofit - but it's very unlikely! Having surveyors, assessors, engineers or architects on board from the start might mean additional cost and time but will be worth it in the long run and will ultimately save money, avoiding mistakes and lost time. What about the things you've not thought of - have you got a ventilation strategy in place for example?

4. Make sure the contractual relationships are clear (and in writing!)

Understanding your priorities and putting together the right team will assist you in deciding how to contract the work. There are a variety of options but a traditional contract or a design and build contract are the most common in construction as a whole. In the traditional contract the design work is done upfront by a consultant (an architect, engineer or building surveyor) and a builder delivers the work set out in the contract documents. In a Design and Build contract, you specify your desired outcomes and the builder covers the design work to achieve these. It's important to understand the pros and cons of each form – where the risks lie in terms of quality, cost and time.

5. Thoroughly check out potential contractors

Sadly, the retrofit business is in a very embryonic state, and as a result it's hard to find the right contractor. Do plenty of research on this, for example by contacting people within SuperHomes or Open Green Homes networks, or ask specialist suppliers and manufacturers for recommendations (some will have a list of approved installers). [You can also look on YouGen - Ed] Always ask contractors to provide contact details of past customers, contact these people and if possible visit them to see the work that was done. You may also want to do background checks at Companies House to check their credit history.

6. Segment your works in to packages

With whole house works it's usually possible to segment works in to packages in terms of how the improvements will be carried out; some parts might be DIY, others may be delivered by a jobbing builder, others require specialist contractors. Alternatively, works can be packaged up on the basis of cost, i.e. “we'll spend £20,000 in total and if part 1 of the job over-runs we'll drop part 2”. Segmenting helps later procurement and budgeting decisions – and means you can manage the amount of risk you take on at once. Take your time, a full retrofit could be staged over many years as and when funds become available, if that’s what best suits your circumstances.

8. Expect disruption and plan accordingly

Whole house retrofit is by definition disruptive. You should expect dust, dirt, and contractors to be tramping in and out of your home. Don't underestimate how stressful it is to be without a clean, quiet, space to relax. Consider moving out at the most disruptive times and discuss protective materials for carpets, furniture etc with contractors before they start work!.

9. Have a plan for monitoring and evaluation

It's important to evaluate how effective the work carried out has been. Heat cameras, smoke pencils, air pressure tests, energy bills, energy monitors and humidity sensors can all be used in this process, and if you can compare this data to pre-retrofit figures all the better. If you’ve packaged up different parts of the work, this might help you decide what to do next, and where to focus your efforts. 

10. Team up with others and go for it!

Don't be put off! With careful pre-planning and realistic expectations you can transform your home and make it a comfortable, climate-safe environment for many years ahead. There's also no need to do it alone, use organisations like Carbon Co-op within the Green Open Homes Network or Community Energy England to find other people who have done it or who are going through it to share experiences, contacts and good advice - you may even be able to procure works together as we have in Community Green Deal.

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