Making our homes greener has many benefits for us and the planet
By making our homes more energy efficient we have the opportunity to create new jobs, improve the lives of individuals who live in them and protect the planet from catastrophic climate change.
In this blog, David Orr writes about how making our homes greener needs to be a long-term strategy, not just a short-term initiative.
Over the summer, the government introduced the Green Homes Grant, which gives landlords and homeowners vouchers to make energy-efficiency upgrades to their homes. Originally designed to fund work completed by March 2021, the scheme has now been extended until the end of December next year under the prime minister’s 10-point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution. This provides an excellent opportunity to improve the overall conditions of our homes so it’s vital the government gets it right.
We all want safe, secure and comfortable places to live and yet for many, their home is a danger to their health. The most likely cause are homes that are too cold and too expensive to heat properly. This can cause various respiratory diseases, makes COVID-19 more severe and, especially for older people, causes death. While we’ve known these effects for centuries, we still have done little about it. We now have a similar problem in summer, with around 2,000 people in the UK dying every year because their homes overheat and can’t be cooled cost-effectively – and that number is expected to more than triple by the 2050s. Energy-efficient retrofits will help cut unnecessary deaths and improve overall health of inhabitants. It will also mean individual households are spending less to stay warm in winter and cool in summer, leaving us with more disposable income.
Due to the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the UK is currently in the midst of an historic economic downturn. The so-called Green Industrial Revolution was designed to help restart the UK economy after the damage the pandemic has caused and estimates 250,000 jobs will be created. Indeed, investment on this scale has the potential to create tens of thousands of jobs, apprenticeships, retraining opportunities for younger and older people who have faced disruption in the job market. New jobs mean more money, the chance to develop new skills, and the sense of purpose that comes from having a job you enjoy. An increase in economic activity leads to more money from taxes which is good for the country’s economic growth, as well as the opportunity for development on a significant scale worth many billions of pounds.
Around 2,000 people in the UK are dying every year because their homes overheat and can’t be cooled cost-effectively.
Heating our homes is a major contributor to climate change, responsible for around 25% of all carbon emissions, according to The Committee on Climate Heating. We have the technologies to ensure our homes are net energy contributors and reduce emissions to zero. Although we may not be able to reach that for all our existing homes, we can certainly aim for this. More energy efficient homes would help the UK deliver on our international obligations to reach net zero.
The benefits for energy-efficient retrofitting are plenty: has the potential to significantly reduce or even stop unnecessary deaths, bolster individual household finances, create new job opportunities, boost economic output, reduce carbon emissions and save our planet. It is both achievable and cost-effective. There is no other investment that can deliver this range of benefits to individuals and the whole planet collectively.
The Green Home Grant has great potential, but it must be delivered successfully. The process must be simple for those wishing to apply for a grant, there must be enough tradespeople signed up to fulfil the work in the desired timeframe and the scheme has to last long enough to make a difference. Making our homes greener needs to be a long-term strategy, not just a short-term initiative to really be part of a Green Revolution.
David Orr CBE is writing for Ageing Better as the chair of the Good Home Inquiry - an independent inquiry into the causes of, and solutions to, the poor quality of so much of England's housing.