Cutting Carbon: the 'Whole House' Approach

Dale Potts
Achieving the government's targets on carbon emissions will take more than a few energy-saving light bulbs. The whole house approach addresses this, shifting emphasis to look at potential improvements holistically.


Achieving the government's targets on carbon emissions will take more than a few energy-saving light bulbs. Proposals for a ‘Whole House package' of energy measures offer a different approach to improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings.


Last year the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) consulted on its Heat and Energy Saving Strategy. One proposal calls for all homes to receive a ‘Whole House package' of energy efficiency improvements to help reduce carbon emissions.

The UK's recent cold snap highlighted the issue of energy-inefficient homes. At Faithful+Gould, we estimated that the cold snap cost householders and businesses an extra £1.2 billion in heating over a 2 week period. On average, a poorly-insulated 3 bed semi-detached house cost an extra £37 to heat over the 2 weeks. An energy efficient house would cost only an extra £23.

  • So just what is a ‘Whole House package'? And how will it help us to meet emissions targets?

The Whole House approach

Energy surveys are currently available for domestic properties through bodies such as the Energy Savings Trust. These surveys identify potential improvements to energy efficiency.

Delivery of improvements is fragmented though: plumbers replace boilers; electricians replace lights; builders do the insulation. There's no consensus on an integrated package of measures to reduce emissions.

The whole house approach addresses this by shifting emphasis from just looking at the cheapest measure first. Instead, all potential improvements are considered at the same time.

The whole house approach begins with an energy audit. This looks at how a household uses energy, and at all relevant improvements:

  • Solid wall insulation
  • Floor insulation
  • Solar heating
  • Heat pumps
  • District heating
  • Solar heating
  • Biomass

Faithful+Gould found that a household may spend £30,000 to reduce emissions by 60%, and £10,000 to reduce them by 30%.

So what are the issues with the Whole House approach?

  • Who will pay?

Research by CLG, through its sponsored Zero Carbon Hub, recommends an  ‘arms length' infrastructure fund, administered by councils and attached to the property title rather than the current owner. The loan is paid off over, say, 25 years and has been called ‘Pay as You Save'.

  • Quality of data

Energy audits will need to collect better data than EPC reports if they are to support a fully integrated approach.

  • Disruption

Retro-fit on this scale is disruptive. Insulation can be added to lofts and cavity walls, boilers upgraded and to some extent windows replaced without major disruption. However, if the property has solid walls and external insulation is not an option, householders will probably have to move out temporarily.

  • The good news

On the positive side, an upgraded house will be cheaper to run, more comfortable and possibly more valuable.

Treating all the carbon reduction opportunities in 1 strategy is a step in the right direction. Homeowners, in theory, will be able to deal with one ‘Whole House refurbishment manager' rather than a multitude of trades. The cost burden of improvements will be paid over the life of the building, rather than falling on the current owner.

The last word

  • Will councils sweeten the pill by giving low carbon properties low council tax bandings?