Mark Wilkins, Head of Training and External Affairs at Vaillant Group, explains the need to focus on how we will decarbonise our existing housing before worrying too much about newbuilds.

The Future Homes Standard consultation has been engaging industry minds over the last few months as we grapple with the complexity of the proposed transition to low carbon heating in all new homes. 

Yet, complex as this is, it isn’t the biggest problem facing the UK when trying to decarbonise heating. The newbuild sector is important, but the number of new homes built each year is less than 1% of the existing stock. So, to reach the scale of carbon emission reductions that the government is targeting, we need to tackle carbon emissions from existing homes, which is even more challenging.

The next stage of consultation on the future of Building Regulations covers existing homes, which will provide opportunities to drive better energy conservation, as these regulations will apply to boiler replacements. 

Over the lifetime of the 2020 regulations, we’d expect approximately seven million existing homes to get replacement boilers. When this occurs, the regulations in place need to ensure that highly effective controls are also installed, so that these heating systems run as efficiently as possible. 

Making it mandatory to fit thermostatic radiator valves to all radiators is a no-brainer, as low carbon heating systems, whether hydrogen or heat pumps, will benefit now and in the future. 

With that in mind, the issue of futureproofing is an interesting one. Should we also be changing radiators to ones that can deal with a low temperature system in the future, knowing that it would also provide benefits now? Many would suggest that this is a big extra cost to add to a boiler replacement, but the reality is that it’s likely to be needed at some point, so why not now?

The issue of extra costs is pertinent, especially in relation to other homes that might not be getting a boiler replaced or undergoing major renovation. It’s clear that there needs to be financial incentives in place, to both drive change and support those who want to save energy but can’t afford the capital cost. 

An announcement on when we will see some incentives and what form they could take is needed soon so that industry can start to prepare. 

The decarbonisation of heat in existing homes will be tough to deliver, and we need to see clear commitments from the government, both in terms of regulation and incentives, to demonstrate that urgent action is underway. Industry will be key as this develops.