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Area: Design, planning and building

Buildings are responsible for approximately 40% of energy consumption and 36% of carbon emissions in the EU (European Commission, 2021). Environmental retrofit, green retrofit or low carbon retrofits of existing homes ais to upgrade housing infrastructure, increase energy efficiency, reduce carbon emissions, tackle fuel poverty, and improve comfort, convenience and aesthetics (Karvonen, 2013).

It is widely acknowledged that environmental retrofit should result in a reduction of carbon emissions by at least 60% in order to stabilise atmospheric carbon concentration and mitigate climate change (Fawcett, 2014; Johnston et al., 2005). Worldwide retrofit schemes such as RetrofitWorks, EnerPHit and the EU’s Renovation Wave, use varying metrics to define low carbon retrofit, but their universally adopted focus has been on end-point performance targets (Fawcett, 2014).

This fabric-first approach to retrofit prioritises improvements to the building fabric through: increased thermal insulation and airtightness; improving the efficiency of systems such as heating, lighting and electrical appliances; and the installation of renewables such as photovoltaics (Institute for Sustainability & UCL Energy Institute, 2012). The whole-house systems approach to retrofit further considers the interaction between the occupant, the building site, climate, and other elements or components of a building (Institute for Sustainability & UCL Energy Institute, 2012). In this way, the building becomes an energy system with interdependent parts that strongly affect one another, and energy performance is considered a result of the whole system activity.

From an economic perspective, retrofit costs are one-off expenses that negatively impact homeowners and landlords, but reduce energy costs for occupants over the long run. Investment in housing retrofit, ultimately a form of asset enhancing, produces an energy premium attached to the property. In the case of the rental market, retrofit expenses create a split incentive whereby the landlord incurs the costs but the energy savings are enjoyed by the tenant (Fuerst et al., 2020).

The existence of energy premiums has been widely researched across various housing markets following Rosen’s hedonic pricing model. In the UK, the findings of Fuerst et al. (2015) showed the positive effect of energy efficiency over price among home-buyers, with a price increase of about 5% for dwellings rated A/B compared to those rated D. Cerin et al. (2014) offered similar results for Sweden. In the Netherlands, Brounen and Kok (2011), also identified a 3.7% premium for dwellings with A, B or C ratings using a similar technique. Property premiums offer landlords and owners the possibility to capitalise on their  retrofit investment through rent increases or the sale of the property. While property premiums are a way to reconcile          split incentives between landlord and renter, value increases pose questions about long-term affordability of retrofitted units, particularly, as real an expected energy savings post-retrofit have been challenging to reconcile (van den Brom et al., 2019).

A socio-technical approach to retrofit elaborates on the importance of the occupant. To meet the current needs of inhabitants, retrofit must be socially contextualized and comprehended as a result of cultural practices, collective evolution of know-how, regulations, institutionalized procedures, social norms, technologies and products (Bartiaux et al., 2014). This perspective argues that housing is not a technical construction that can be improved in an economically profitable manner without acknowledging that it’s an entity intertwined in people’s lives, in which social and personal meaning

are embedded. Consequently, energy efficiency and carbon reduction cannot be seen as a merely technical issue. We should understand and consider the relationship that people have developed in their dwellings, through their everyday routines and habits and their long-term domestic activities (Tjørring & Gausset, 2018).

Retrofit strategies and initiatives tend to adhere to a ‘rational choice’ consultation model that encourages individuals to reduce their energy consumption by focusing on the economic savings and environmental benefits through incentive programs, voluntary action and market mechanisms (Karvonen, 2013). This is often criticized as an insufficient and individualist approach, which fails to achieve more widespread systemic changes needed to address the environmental and social challenges of our times (Maller et al., 2012). However, it is important to acknowledge the housing stock as a cultural asset that is embedded in the fabric of everyday lifestyles, communities, and livelihoods (Ravetz, 2008). The rational choice perspective does not consider the different ways that occupants inhabit their homes, how they perceive their consumption, in what ways they interact with the built environment, for what reasons they want to retrofit their houses and which ways make more sense for them, concerning the local context.

A community-based approach to domestic retrofit emphasizes the importance of a recursive learning process among experts and occupants to facilitate the co-evolution of the built environment and the communities (Karvonen, 2013). Involving the occupants in the retrofit process and understanding them as “carriers” of social norms, of established routines and know-how, new forms of intervention  can emerge that are experimental, flexible and customized to particular locales (Bartiaux et al., 2014). There is an understanding that reconfiguring socio-technical systems on a broad scale will require the participation of occupants to foment empowerment, ownership, and the collective control of the domestic retrofit (Moloney et al., 2010).


Bartiaux, F., Gram-Hanssen, K., Fonseca, P., Ozoliņa, L., & Christensen, T. H. (2014). A practice-theory approach to homeowners’ energy retrofits in four European areas. Building Research and Information, 42(4), 525–538.

Brounen, D., & Kok, N. (2011). On the economics of energy labels in the housing market. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 62(2), 166–179.

Cerin, P., Hassel, L. G., & Semenova, N. (2014). Energy Performance and Housing Prices. Sustainable Development, 22(6), 404–419.

European Commission. (2021). Energy Performance of Buildings Directive. Available at: performance-buildings-directive_en (Accessed: 19 ¬¬October 2021)

Fawcett, T. (2014). Exploring the time dimension of low carbon retrofit: Owner-occupied housing.

Building Research and Information, 42(4), 477–488.

Fuerst, F., Haddad, M. F. C., & Adan, H. (2020). Is there an economic case for energy-efficient dwellings in the UK private rental market? Journal of Cleaner Production, 245.

Fuerst, F., McAllister, P., Nanda, A., & Wyatt, P. (2015). Does energy efficiency matter to home- buyers? An investigation of EPC ratings and transaction prices in England. Energy Economics, 48, 145–156.

Institute for Sustainability & UCL Energy Institute. (2012). Retrofit strategies. Key Findings: Retrofit project team perspectives.

Johnston, D., Lowe, R., & Bell, M. (2005). An exploration of the technical feasibility of achieving CO2 emission reductions in excess of 60% within the UK housing stock by the year 2050. Energy Policy, 33(13), 1643–1659.

Karvonen, A. (2013). Towards systemic domestic retrofit: A social practices approach. Building Research and Information, 41(5), 563–574.

Maller, C., Horne, R., & Dalton, T. (2012). Green Renovations: Intersections of Daily Routines, Housing Aspirations and Narratives of Environmental Sustainability. 29(3), 255–275.

Moloney, S., Horne, R. E., & Fien, J. (2010). Transitioning to low carbon communities—from behaviour change to systemic change: Lessons from Australia. Energy Policy, 38(12), 7614– 7623.

Ravetz, J. (2008). State of the stock—What do we know about existing buildings and their future prospects? Energy Policy, 36(12), 4462–4470.

Tjørring, L., & Gausset, Q. (2018). Drivers for retrofit: a sociocultural approach to houses and inhabitants. 47(4), 394–403.

van den Brom, P., Meijer, A., & Visscher, H. (2019). Actual energy saving effects of thermal renovations in dwellings—longitudinal data analysis including building and occupant characteristics. Energy and Buildings, 182, 251–263.

Created on 16-02-2022 | Update on 21-02-2022

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