We've written this guide to help you understand more about the section on buildings in the Climate Action Plan for councils.

25 Feb 2020

Background information

Housing is responsible for around 15% of UK greenhouse gas emissions. When we include electricity consumption in this figure the residential sector is responsible for 22% of UK greenhouse gas emissions. Not only will improving the housing sector impact a significant proportion of emissions but it will also pull people out of fuel poverty and improve public health.

The goal

Councils should ensure all homes are well insulated to a minimum of Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) level C by 2030, to eradicate the number of people living in fuel poverty as fast as possible (those making decisions between either eating or heating), and make a proportional contribution to the 1 million eco-heating heat pumps that need to be fitted in the UK each year.

What councils should do

Friends of the Earth has identified how many homes are well insulated in each council in England and Wales (which is much less than half in most places), and how many homes need to be brought up to standard each year. We have also identified how many oil or gas boilers need to be replaced every year with eco-heating.

Councils can make a difference to housing-sector emissions by retrofitting publicly owned buildings and implementing regulation on new developments. Points 13 to 19 in our Climate Action Plan for councils suggest councils should:

13. Retrofit council-owned properties with high levels of insulation and heat pumps where possible.

  • Housing should be insulated to a minimum of EPC C standard. This means homes should have good loft insulation, double-glazing, draughts eradicated and, where possibly, cavity wall insulation.In addition, eco-heating options such as heat pumps need to be fitted where possible (not all homes are suitable for heat pumps)

14. Help energy companies target fuel poor or vulnerable households with energy efficiency measures.

  • Energy companies have an obligation to help these households fit the insulation described above, but also in some cases to install external insulation on solid wall properties.

15. Enforce minimum energy efficiency standards in the private rented sector.

Require higher standards than current national standards for privately built new homes, including requiring the use of heat pumps for heating where possible.

  • For example, Cambridge City Council is requiring higher standards for privately built new homes and ensuring housing built on council land is extremely energy efficient. No new home should be connected to the gas-grid, instead electric heating should be used, preferably heat pumps (not all new homes will be suitable for heat pumps but nearly all should)

17. Enforce building standards.

  • The cuts made to council funding have made many unable to ensure builders are using the right types of insulation or the correct quantities. A lack of inspection enables builders to cut corners and their own costs, but the homes will cost more to heat for future homeowners.

18. Require buildings built on council land to be extremely energy efficient, using the Passivhaus standard or similar.

  • Passivhaus is built to such a high standard, and so well insulated, that it requires very little heating to keep warm. While it costs more to build these homes, they require a lot less money to heat. Norwich City Council is pioneering the development of these homes in the UK.

19. Develop a heating and energy efficiency strategy for the area, including identify skills and training development priorities.

  • Councils should be required and empowered to produce a Local Heat and Energy Efficiency Strategy (as is being piloted in Scotland). As part of this, they should be provided with the responsibility and resources to coordinate an energy efficiency and eco-heating transformation programme.This should include training local people with the skills to get the jobs that such a scheme would deliver.

Government action

The government has a major role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from housing, particularly in encouraging energy efficiency in privately-owned homes and funding eco-heating.

Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and others are calling for a minimum of £1 billion of additional government spending every year for the next few years to fund energy efficiency. This should also leverage a further £3.5 billion of private investment, in addition to the £700 million currently invested by the government. An additional investment of £300 million per year should also be used to innovate deep energy efficiency approaches such as Energiesprong (a Dutch approach to whole house retrofit of energy insulation, including floors, doors, windows, walls and roof) and Passivhaus. There needs to be a rapid shift away from gas-fired central heating to electrically powered heat pumps. A typical mid-terrace Victorian built home will produce the same amount of greenhouse gases from heating as driving a car more than 11,000 miles in a year. A heat pump can reduce this by at least half. Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and others are also calling for at least £2.3 billion of additional public spending per year for the next few years on low carbon heating. This sum will need to increase substantially in future years.

Further reading

Affordable homes scheme reflects rise of Norwich as a passive hub.

Case studies.

How climate friendly is your area?