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Research and insights23 March 2022

Cutting emissions and cutting bills – setting a path for the sector

By Rob Lane, Chief Property Officer, Clarion Housing Group

Clarion has gained vital experience on the challenge of retrofitting existing housing stock with government-backed pilot projects. But this is just the beginning, for us and our sector.

The sheer mass of conferences, webinars and interviews on the theme of ‘retrofit’ highlights the passion within our sector to find and share creative solutions for driving down carbon emissions of our homes.

This progressive approach to our collective stock is leading to changing opinions on what good asset management looks like.

For Clarion, good asset management has always been about navigating challenges, proactively making interventions and setting future standards. As the UK’s largest housing provider, we have a duty to innovate and lay the foundations for others.


In March 2021, we were the only G15 housing association to take part in the government’s landmark Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF) Demonstrator.

Partnering with the government and working with Fenland and Tonbridge & Malling councils to upgrade 120 Clarion homes enabled us to accelerate our existing work of cutting emissions and radically improving the energy efficiency within our portfolio.

So by the time the government announced details of the first wave of the SHDF in January 2022 – in which we, Fenland, Merton and Tonbridge & Malling councils were awarded £5.2m to upgrade 450 more homes – we had learned some valuable lessons on the practical challenges and opportunities.

Despite an existing and well-embedded planned investment programme, through which we have installed more than 1,000 air-source heat pumps in Clarion homes over the past decade, participating in the SHDF pilot has been an eye-opening experience – it taught us as much about technical elements of retrofit as the resident experience, both during and after an upgrade.

Lifestyle change

One of the stand-out challenges facing our sector is demystifying the process for residents and explaining how they can maximise the potential of their newly upgraded home, whether that is using brand-new heating technology or letting new ventilation systems to do their job of managing a room’s air quality.

This lifestyle change for residents needs careful consideration, especially in some groups. Older residents, for example, and those who have lived in the home for decades will need more support.

We have taken the time to educate many residents about some of the challenges of retrofit, but also make clear the work is part of a much bigger picture: tackling climate change. Cheaper bills and warmer homes are potentially life-changing consequences, rather than the sole intention, of the work.

Monitoring progress

At Clarion, we have also been exploring how to provide appropriate aftercare once an upgrade is complete. We are already coming up with solutions, such as placing monitoring equipment in each home we retrofit, rather than the minimum requirement of just 10% of upgraded properties specified within the retrofit guidance.

This helps us check if every upgraded home performs as expected and whether the resident requires assistance. The data we are receiving is proving invaluable.

Whether upgrading one home or 500, retrofit is a multi-agency operation. We are passionate about seeding our supply chain to build knowledge, boost skills and gain invaluable experience for the future. This is crucial for stimulating innovation and building true economies of scale, bringing down product costs as demand increases.

And if investing in the supply chain could help the upgrades of tomorrow, we must not ignore the here and now. Working with our charitable foundation, Clarion Futures, we are exploring a responsive retrofit service to prioritise bespoke upgrades of homes whose residents are in or nearing fuel poverty. At a time when fuel costs have never been higher, this will be a key focus for us in the months ahead.

We have made fantastic progress on our asset management strategy and have become a key partner of government on its drive to bring tens of thousands of UK homes up to a higher energy performance certificate rating. In our own homes, we have implemented a number of modern retrofit measures such as external wall insulation, triple glazing, solar photovoltaic panels and air tightness improvements.

Wider sector

But this is just the beginning, for us and our sector. The next few years will be critical in terms of collaborative research and development ahead of a future mass roll-out. The government must provide sustained investment to help housing associations accelerate their plans but we have a responsibility, too.

We will work with the government to develop clarity on what energy-efficiency target constitutes net zero ready. We must also identify how residents of differing property types can economically ditch their boilers in favour of clean and green energy sources – using natural planned investment cycles to sustainably schedule work and reduce the chance of regret spend.

At Clarion, we will continue to support the government and sector, applying what we have learned to keep coming up with economic and efficient solutions – for people and properties alike.

This blog was previously published here.