New retrofit standards, new roles, existing policy, do they all fit together?

18 August, 2020

Marina Topouzi

Reading time: 6 minutes

CREDS researcher Marina Topouzi recently undertook training to become a ‘Retrofit Co-ordinator’ and discusses how these new roles can support green jobs recovery.

For the last couple of years, I have been involved in developing retrofit standards for low energy buildings that involve specifications for new roles and skills. I recently attended a training course to become qualified in one of these roles – the ‘Retrofit Co-ordinator’. Here I give a short overview of how these different aspects are expected to be linked and changed to help deliver improvements to the UK’s building stock.

In the recent Chancellor’s announcement, the UK’s housing stock has been the focus of the Government. A £2bn green homes grant will be available from September 2020 for homeowners to improve their properties with energy efficient measures. Homeowners will be able to apply for vouchers to cover at least two-thirds of the costs of measures, such as, insulation up to a limit of £5,000 or, to a maximum of £10,000 for low income households. This is in addition to the existing, smaller-scale Energy Company Obligation (ECO) programme, which largely funds efficiency improvements for households in fuel poverty. The green recovery plan that has been announced is expected to be key driver for economic recovery from COVID19, creating new green jobs to support energy efficient retrofits. Green jobs and skills to support quality in energy efficient construction and retrofit have been thought for many decades to be the ‘Achilles heel’ for the building sector, as they require whole sector reform and long-term policy commitments.

Towards high quality in retrofit

The process of developing a high quality scheme for residential retrofit in the UK began in 2016. The starting point was a government-sponsored review, Each Home Counts, which outlined 27 recommendations to improve the government’s and consumers’ confidence in domestic retrofit. A key recommendation was to set up a government-endorsed high quality scheme which is supported by an industry Code of Conduct, a Consumer Charter and a framework of technical standards for retrofit, known as PAS 2035/2030:2019. The new standards, currently at pilot stage, will be mandatory requirement on all Energy Company Obligation (ECO) projects from July 2021. Fully supported by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), PAS2035 sets the specification standards for best practice guidance for energy retrofit of domestic buildings. One of the differences compared to previous formulations of these standards is that PAS2035 compliance operates under the TrustMark – the new Quality mark for the retrofit sector. The installation of ECO measures requires installers to be registered with TrustMark, or under their responsibility, and both measure(s) and work to be lodged into the TrustMark Data Warehouse. ECO, TrustMark and PAS2035 need to work in conjunction to improve quality of energy efficiency retrofits and at the same time drive the demand for individuals and companies to be qualified and accredited in this area.

New retrofit roles

PAS2035 standards introduce and set the skills for five new roles – Retrofit Advisor, Retrofit Assessor, Retrofit Co-ordinator, Retrofit Designer, and Retrofit Evaluator – in addition to the existing role of Retrofit Installer – as per PAS2030/2019. A risk assessment of the retrofit process highlights how important the involvement of these new roles is in different retrofit stages. The Retrofit Co-ordinator has a key role in the standards and its involvement in all work stages should help to mitigate retrofit process risks.

Since I am part of the steering group panel for the development of the PAS2035 standards and I come from an architectural and on-site project management background, my curiosity led me earlier this summer to attend the Retrofit Academy’s Level 5 Diploma in Retrofit Coordination and Risk Management course. In an intense, two-day, online course, 23 attendees from the private and public sector with many backgrounds and expertise (i.e. architects, project managers, operations managers, energy and innovation managers, assessors, developers/contractors) went through a range of modules that covered different stages of retrofit technical issues and building physics risks,  process risks, retrofit measures cost and efficiency, key roles, management and responsibilities. Because of COVID19 the course was adapted for online, aiming to keep good levels of content and sufficient interaction between attendees and tutors. The course, that is aligned with PAS2035 standards, takes a whole-house deep retrofit approach (in stages or one-off), giving essential skills to the Retrofit Co-coordinator to develop, together with other stakeholders, a Medium Term Retrofit and Improvement plan for 30 years.

Limitations

However, ECO and the individual measures granted by it have not been developed for whole-house deep retrofits and there might be an issue for compliance since the skills for this role, standards and policy, are currently not fully aligned. The trainees pointed out that the need to practice the course assignments in an actual retrofit example was a limitation from both the course design and their own lack of work activity due to COVID19. Concerns were also raised on the level of responsibility (shared or individual) and legal implications, in that the Retrofit Co-ordinator role has an ambiguous status in a project, and the level of support that the Retrofit Academy (or other professional bodies) can offer to them in these cases.

How fast, at what scale and at high quality can the skills obtained from the Retrofit Academy course (or similar accreditation schemes for this role) support green jobs recovery, and provide qualification towards quality with clear responsibilities and accountabilities?

This question cannot be answered yet. This is because it requires evidence to confirm when changes in all elements (PAS, ECO, TrustMark, and Qualifications) are in place. I also have yet to fully qualify as a Retrofit Coordinator as the qualification for the role cannot be completed until many course assignments are submitted and get a better understanding when the theory has been put into practice in an actual retrofit case. In this transition period until policy and standards are in force, and PAS pilots reveal issues on the implementation of both, industry needs to gear up with qualifications and skills for all five new key roles that have been introduced in PAS2035/2019. The training cannot be one-off learning but should be an on-going process to upgrade skills and in which mentoring and sharing of best practice can continue through membership. New and existing professional bodies need to review and legally cover the issues on responsibilities and accountabilities of these new roles.

Conclusion

Things need to change in the construction sector to improve the quality, speed and scale of retrofits. The new standards are a vital part of this because the Trust mark will bring to the front the supply chain needs and PAS standards the new roles, skills and responsibilities.

Training courses and construction accreditation bodies are changing by introducing new informative tools, learning platforms and different structures to established professions. However, these changes need to ensure that they do not add more complexity in an already complex system and that all elements are coordinated and go beyond the completion of a qualification, delivery of a retrofit project or policy duration.

Banner photo credit: Scott Webb on Unsplash

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