If you're just beginning to retrofit your home to better energy efficient standards, where do you begin? Retrofit architect specialist Mark Elton gives his advice on how to prioritise for the Green Homes Grant. 

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While you may think that any investment into reducing your home's energy needs is a good investment, if you're not tactical in how you approach a piecemeal home retrofit, you may find yourself creating problems further down the road. "There's a great risk that you spend a bit of money on getting the easy-win carbon reductions, that will then actually prevent the deeper reductions that could be made later," says Mark Elton, architect at Cowan Architects

Mark, who is a Passivhaus certified architect, is one of the country's leading experts on sustainable retrofit – author of Institute of Sustainability Guide: Improving the Building Fabric and Building Fabric course tutor at the Retrofit Academy. 

With this in mind, the Grand Designs magazine team asked Mark how he would envisage homeowners get the most from the Government's new Green Homes Grant scheme. 

Read more: The Green Homes Grant: how does it work?

Take a fabric first approach 

While many low-carbon heating systems are included as primary measures under the Green Homes Grant, from air source heat pumps to biomass boilers, this isn't necessarily where you should begin your retrofit journey, Mark explains. "Really, we need to be looking at a fabric first approach," he says. "If you spent a lot of money on a heating source for your poorly insulated building, that's probably the wrong priority. If something comes along in the future that reduces your space heating demand dramatically, you've wasted that investment on an oversized heating system." 

Read more: Green Homes Grant: using a TrustMark registered trader

Make a long term retrofit plan 

Unless your home is already largely energy efficient, it's likely that the Green Homes Grant will make up a small proportion of its overall retrofit requirements, meaning that you may tackle the renovation in stages.

"EnerPHit (the Passivhaus standard for retrofitting properties) focuses quite a bit on the step by step benefit of whole home retrofit," says Mark. Because it is an expensive process, doing it step by step is one way to get there eventually." 

To do this, and to ensure that your investment now is worthwhile, a long-term-plan will help make sense of your retrofit ambitions. "What we need for each property is a medium-to-long term plan – it's trying to understand what's the endgame with each property archetype." 

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Be realistic about your budget 

With this plan in mind, be realistic about the costs of a whole home retrofit. 

"The reality is that, whether it's £5,000 or £10,000 you're able to claim from the Green Homes Grant, it's not enough for a complete retrofit. You're talking £25,000 - £40,000 for a whole house retrofit done properly. I think what's important with the Green Homes Grant is that they are spent wisely, but with the knowledge that they don't inhibit making further investment in the future," Mark says.

Read more: Sustainable retrofit: what you need to know

"You need to figure out what can you do with your £5,000 that doesn't prevent future upgrades but is beneficial towards that," he continues. 

"As an example, it might be that you insulate just the facing wall at the rear of the property to a good standard, and then come back another time to think about the street facing element of property – this might be one way to proceed rather than half heartedly doing both." 

Take account of your home's requirements

The best way to proceed depends on the specific home, Mark says. "With the fabric first approach, It's really about reducing heating demand as the starting point, and each house may have a different way of dealing with that." 

While you may imagine this scheme best applies to those who are already living in a less-than-energy efficient home, Mark suggests it's the perfect opportunity for those moving into new homes they're intending to renovate. "Wouldn't it be great if this grant coincided with you moving into a vacant property? It's arguably a perfect opportunity to rip up the floors and deal with all the insulation before you move in with all your stuff. Once you've moved in, it will be more disruptive to make these changes."

 

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