A place in our industry for a Retrofit Coordinator
The Retrofit Coordinator (RC) has emerged as a critical role as the building industry is grappling with some serious deficiencies in the way it has operated in recent years. A key focus for the climate change agenda as well as the ‘decent homes’ agenda, is for all homes in the UK to be retrofitted with significant changes needed and for assured higher performance thanks to high quality design and installation. There may still be debate on when these higher standards must be put in place and by what means, but the ‘if’ is not in doubt. The works involved depend on what baseline you are starting from; the building tells you what it needs. But every building will need all of the following in the next 30 or so years:
- Its external thermal envelope to be upgraded to reduce heat loss – walls, windows, floors roof u-values reduced and any air gaps removed.
- The heating system to be sized appropriately (given the high levels of insulation) and with suitable controls systems.
- Sufficient ventilation to ensure the occupants health is maintained which means designed interventions as the
- For all of those elements to be working in tandem, not in conflict. They have been designed with the other measures in mind and with due consideration to further changes in the future by other property owners.
It should be clear to anyone that all of that work must be coordinated to ensure maximum gain from the investment and no performance conflict, but also to ensure in the first that the opportunity for installation are leapt on. For example, a kitchen is replaced on average every 11 years in the UK; if the walls supporting the cupboards or the floor below is not insulated at that time, that building may never reach its required target. So who does this coordination?
80% of the value of the RMI sector is in smaller works where minor works are carried out; redecoration, replacement of controlled fittings (ref.).Under existing industry governance, all of this work is deemed to be ably controlled by Competent Person Schemes (CPS) (ref.) whereupon the contractor carrying out the work is responsible for the design and installation, whilst oversight (Quality Assurance) is carried out by the CPS they have joined by checking a proportion of the works, typically 5%. So the householder is reliant on finding a contractor that is the adviser, designer, installer and QA. They could ask the council to sign off the work for £200 to £750 – but why if the contractor is doing it for free?
If every one of these works had an energy accent, it is possible that we would be rapidly heading towards a low energy building stock given 2.5% of homes are heavily refurbished every year. But we aren’t and this doesn’t look like changing. Given the criticality of reducing energy consumption and in particular heat energy, the presence of a Retrofit Coordinator, guided by an energy model of the home and to create a ‘Whole House Plan’ would represent the building for its current and future owners and ensure that every opportunity is maximised.
When that minor project becomes a significant project, aesthetic proposals, technical design and heritage considerations need to take place and the right professional is brought in (unless that appointed professional is already a Retrofit Coordinator). We have already established that the bulk of jobs in the UK are of low value, so there are challenges to the involvement of professionals in this market:
- Dealing with a specialist is expensive. £15-40,000 of work can have a huge impact on the performance of a home if guided well. If that kind of budget was suggested in initial discussion with an Architect or Architectural Technician (for instance), there might be v little interest from them to engage as they would judge straight away that there is little for them to earn.
- Specialists rarely want to do initial triage as they do not have sufficient rounded knowledge; their perfect scenario is a diagnosed problem and then being able to solve it for a fee. Householders often have to take a bet on what they think the problem is (after a web search filtering the fake news and manufacturer claims) and call in a profession that seems right.
- Specialists do not want to spend quality time supervising installations. Visits are time-consuming to organise and execute and given the potential spread of jobs that may take 1-12 months across a wide geographical area, quality assurance is usually under-resourced.
A coordination role can be a lead into and the oversight role once key professional roles have taken place or if for minor works the ‘design and install’ contractor needs some supervision and with advances in digital surveying and communication techniques, the coordination can be achieved at a low cost. Given the high volume of work required however, the potential for the RC to earn is significant.
There are other professions where this works very well. A Paramedic is the first point of contact for a person in need of emergency medical assistance. They are not Doctors and cannot diagnose specific illnesses or prescribe, but run through a series of protocols to arrive at an action; they assess risk. In the Building sector there are big jobs and little jobs and a small grey area between. Who is the Paramedic of Refurbishment? Who provides the ubiquitous oversight of energy and risk for all work? Unlike a medical emergency, there is no need to react as quickly as in an emergency situation so decision protocols in a considered fashion, so there is room for a Retrofit Coordinator to cover many customer jobs and take time to ask for technical support from specialist professionals. For jobs that with inevitably be sizeable, skip the specialist RC, but ensure the lead professional has demonstrable energy and risk knowledge. Get them onto the RC training.
In the RetrofitWorks Membership we have a very wide range of RCs, to identify a few:
- An Architectural Technician with a Building Services background.
- A Gas Safe Engineers that provides support to other RCs where needed and who leads on heating-only jobs.
- Three Passive House consultants who understand intimately the criticality of airtightness and ventilation.
- A Green Roof and Project Management expert.
Also in our Membership we have other experts that support the RCs such as a Chartered Surveyor that carries out a damp survey prior to the RC’s final recommendations if required. As a result of that, we have achieved significant success on the Warmer Homes project for the Greater London Authority which is still live. The RC is front and centre, carrying out an evaluation of need both for the house and the resident before making a appropriate proposal. Out of the over 600 completions achieved to date we have less than 4% customer drops outs compared to similar schemes that might expect between 10-50% and this is whilst dealing with approximately 50% of customers that would be classed as vulnerable. This points to a high level of customer trust in what we are offering them. Our experience shows us that the RC role is critical if we are to achieve any kind of retrofit at scale in the UK.