Preston (and other) failed retrofits on Radio 4

The story of the failed retrofits in Preston, along with similar issues faced in Blackpool and – this time, with cavity insulation – in Leeds, were covered in an item by Zoe Conway on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. I helped Zoe with some background, but she did a lot of work visiting the sites and interviewing occupants, and I think this was a pretty fair account.

The report can be heard here, until the beginning of December: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0001282 -starts at approx 1hr 33m.

The Radio 4 item was also picked up by Mail Online later that day.

You can read my original post, which includes a link to my article in Passive House Plus,  here

 

 

Grenfell Tower – comments on the long long London Review of Books article

Just before the first anniversary of the Grenfell fire, the London Review of Books gave over almost all of an issue to one long article by novelist Andrew O’Hagan – called ‘The Tower’. I haven’t linked directly to it, but it is easily found by going to the London Review of Books website.

The article has been praised by some readers, but a number of people including many close to the Grenfell community have expressed their unhappiness with many aspects of the article. People have and challenged its accuracy, questioned why it appeared as sympathetic as it did to Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council, and taken exception to some of the language used about the victims of the fire and in the local activist groups. (This article by Gavriel Hollander in New Statesman summarises many of these concerns. I will try to post some other links later.)

Like many commentators, I too felt the article set up something of a ‘straw man’, in suggesting that the overriding media message has been that ‘the council were to blame’ – despite the extensive investigations into numerous other factors – of course, in particular, the role of the construction industry.

Even though in theory some of what Mr O’Hagan discussed would be worth looking into, I found too much of the article at odds with my existing understanding, which inevitably made it harder to trust the author’s words elsewhere in the article.

But what perhaps surprised me most, coming as it did from a journal that carries a lot of reportage, was how poorly argued and sloppily written the article was.

As the rather wonderful spoken response to Mr O’Hagan’s article by poet and writer Potent Whisper put it here “60,000 words! He must think that he’s impressing us. I just think the editor at large needs an editor.”

I sent a long comment to the magazine, written from my point of view as a journalist. It is unlikely that they will publish it, because it is so long. So I am sharing it below – more or less (though not exactly) as I sent it. Continue reading

Preston Retrofit Disaster

An external insulation contract in Preston, run under a government energy saving scheme five years ago went horribly wrong. Up to 390 homes were affected with water penetration, mould and damp.

Four years on the problems, some of them severe, have only been rectified for some of the affected households. Occupants, many elderly and on low incomes, have in some cases reportedly been forced to pay for repairs themselves.

Although the story was well-known to many directly involved with retrofit policy-making, the story had hardly been told outside those circles, but with the help of Preston Council and some of the other people involved, I wrote an article for Passive House Plus, which also features a number of Preston Council’s photographs showing just how extensive the damage was to some of the affected homes. It can be read here: Disastrous Preston retrofit scheme remains unresolved

I did get to visit the area after that article was published, and have since given a couple of talks on what I saw. You can view/download the slides to the one given at an event in April 2018 (organised by Community Energy England and Carbon Co-op): Lessons from Preston – when retrofit goes wrong

 

Grenfell Fire

Like everyone, I was horrified by the events of June 14, 2017. I felt additionally anguished because I had written so often about poor standards and corner cutting in construction, without ever imagining the consequences would be so devastating. But we knew, didn’t we, that risks were – and still are – being taken.

I wrote a long piece for Passive House Plus looking at the background to the catastrophe: in particular, examining how such highly combustible cladding might have come to be used. That article is here: Grenfell Tower – how did it happen?

I also wrote a follow-up piece on the concerns of many fire experts that too much information about product testing was being kept secret due to commercial confidentiality – and that that the information that was kept secret, might have led to better design choices had it been available. The story also contained calls for combustible materials to be banned entirely from tall buildings as they are in several other countries. A further news item reported Dame Judith’s shock at the lack of accountability and the obvious opportunities for corner-cutting in mainstream construction

And I contributed to some of the very thorough coverage of the subject in Inside Housing magazine – you can read the relevant articles here and here (you may need to create an account to read these if you are not an IH subscriber).

UPDATE: Now the Public Inquiry has opened, a great deal more information is becoming available. Sessions and background evidence submissions are being posted in the inquiry website here. Dr Lane’s is one that has been reported as containing a huge amount of important detail. If anyone finds anything they think needs wider coverage, do get in touch: mail “at” katedeselincourt.co.uk.

Uni teaching block launches large Passivhaus in the UK

Case studies for Passive House Plus: new build

UK’s largest passive building opens to 2,400 students and staff

University of Leicester – the new Centre for Medicine

Completed early this year, the new Centre for Medicine at the University of Leicester is by far the largest single building in the UK to meet the passive house standard — and not surprisingly, its design and construction posed tough new challenges on how to meet the rigorous low energy standard on such a large, complicated building. December 2016

 

Read the article

 

A healthy retrofit scheme for London residents

Retrofit case studies for Passive House Plus

South London scheme delivers better health for residents

The original houses, with the new build homes beyond

A sensitive development of social housing in Lambeth combines three new passive houses with six low energy flats carefully constructed inside an old Victorian terrace. With the emphasis on good indoor air quality, residents are already reporting improvements in health & well-being since moving from their old accommodation. Oct 2106

 

Read the Article

Post-war housing retrofit

How to save social housing blocks

The colourful timber -built external cladding in place on the block at Parkview

Post-war social housing blocks are often seen as both ugly and uncomfortable. They frequently suffer from high energy bills, damp and mould. But three ambitious renovation projects show the answer doesn’t always lie in demolition. Oct 2015

 

Read the Article

Victorian Passive Retrofit

Sensitive passive retrofit transforms Victorian North London home

The all-new, Victorian-feel facade of this deep deep retrofit

Upgrading a historic home to the passive house standard typically means leaving the façade untouched to preserve the building’s historic appearance, but the team behind this fully passive retrofit in Kensal Green took a totally different approach. Oct 2016

 

Read the Article

 

 

Community deep retrofit

Working with design consultancy URBED, Manchester-based community energy group Carbon Co-op has pioneered a way of supporting ‘able-to-pay’ homeowners to invest in making their homes warmer and more comfortable – while reducing their energy use by around half.

By upgrading the fabric of homes and adding PV panels, cuts of 40-60% or more were made in  energy consumption and emissions and £1,000/year was knocked off bills, at a level of capital spending that homeowners were willing and able to invest.

As well as dramatically reduced energy bills, homeowners who participated in the project say:

–        Their homes are warmer, including first thing in the morning.
–        They feel less damp and the air feels fresher.
–        Homes are less draughty.
–        Homes are cooler in summer when it’s hot.

Customer research showed that the project’s success resulted from the combination of a community base with expert technical advice and supervision, along with a modest financial incentive (in this case a zero-interest loan).

By bringing a group of householders and their homes together under one umbrella, important elements such as site crew training and the detailing of insulation installation could be shared, while specifications were individualised to each home in line with the needs of the building and the wishes of the owners.

This combination gave customers the confidence to invest, and enabled them to transform the performance of their homes.

I visited the project and spent time with the project team – and met some of the co-op members: a great bunch of people and an impressive project. The report I wrote for them is on their website here: Carbon Coop – Powering Down Together, with a shorter summary here Powering Down Together – summary

Timber building case studies

A series of around 30 illustrated case studies of buildings constructed with home-grown UK, and in particular, Welsh timber. Some lovely buildings, ranging from very simple roundwood constructions and solid traditional oak frames, through to much more contemporary styles and high-peformance Passivahaus buildings.

View the case studies here: Homegrown timber in construction: case studies

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