HomeBehaviour changeHigh rise hope: can tower blocks become models of energy efficiency?

High rise hope: can tower blocks become models of energy efficiency?

This is a guest post by Sean Farrance-White, campaign manager at Rockwool UK.

It comes ahead of Green Alliance’s event next week Greening towers – can high rise living be sustainable?

When it comes to energy efficiency, tower blocks can be leaky. Often built at a time when energy efficiency standards were not a priority, they can be draughty, damp and expensive places to live. These issues can have social as well as environnental implications, leading to higher energy bills, more instances of fuel poverty, and even contributing to the wider public perception that tower blocks are ‘not nice places to live’.

Rockwool’s recent involvement in a landmark whole building retrofit at the Edward Woods Estate in the heart of West London has shown that consistent and well thought out refurbishment can drive social regeneration, as well as a reduction in resident’s fuel bills and lower carbon emissions.

The 1960s tower blocks had been facing potential demolition but instead Hammersmith & Fulham Council, working with Rockwool, ECD Architects, main contractor Breyer and British Gas, undertook a refurbishment of the towers, including cladding them in external wall insulation, improving the structural strength and installing solar panels on the north and south elevations of the buildings.

The Edward Woods Estate during refurbishment

Rockwool has also been working with LSE to analyse the impact of the refurbishment. Our first report, High Rise Hope, measured energy costs and social conditions before and during the £16 million retrofit of the Edward Woods estate. The research team investigated how the radical improvements affected community pride, feelings of safety, relationships with other residents, energy bills and fuel poverty. A follow-up study in 2013, once the refurbishment is finished, will measure the longer-term benefits and costs for residents.

The report found that residents in virtually identical flats had utility bills that ranged from £500 a year to £2,000 before the work had taken place and highlighted the need for energy saving education to help residents cut utility bills and reduce fuel poverty.

Over two-thirds of tenants interviewed for the report described their home as good or excellent during the construction work. Two thirds also said that living on the estate is good or excellent, despite the disruption. Long-term residents, mainly pensioners, say the estate has “vastly improved over the years”. The findings highlight that investing in green retrofits can gain strong backing from residents despite the inconvenience of the works, if the benefits that the works bring are recognised.

The research also highlighted a lack of knowledge of the energy saving benefits of the measures being installed amongst the residents. Whilst it is hoped this will be rectified with a resident drop in day, clearly communicating these benefits should be integral to future projects.

An artist’s impression of the completed project

With a combination of the Green Deal and ECO (Energy Company Obligation) set to provide funding for energy efficiency upgrades in buildings from 2013, local authorities can utilise these funding streams to improve housing stock far beyond carbon and energy bill savings. We hope the work at the Edward Woods estate can provide a blueprint that illustrates the re-generative social impact that well thought-out whole building retrofit can have on social housing stock across Britain.

For more information about this project read the report High Rise Hope: The social implications of energy efficiency retrofit in multi-storey tower blocks.

time lapse of the refurbishment work is also available.

This project features as one of the inspirational examples in Green Alliance’s new report Towering ambitions, which will be launched at the Greening towers event on Tuesday 4 December 2012. Contact Hannah Kyrke-Smith for more details. #toweringambitions

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Green Alliance is a charity and independent think tank focused on ambitious leadership and increased political support for environmental solutions in the UK. This blog provides space for commentary and analysis around environmental politics and policy issues as they affect the UK. The views of external contributors do not necessarily represent those of Green Alliance.

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