Evironmental Sustainability in Residential

By Neil Young, written November 2021

Wow, this is a big topic.

For years, at best, most have paid lip service to sustainability in residential. Currently, about thirty million homes in the UK spew out carbon. Then there is also the issue of new homes built creating more carbon. To add to this, most of those homes are owned individually – that’s a lot of people to educate on how to reduce their carbon footprint!

That’s one hell of an inbox to deal with.

Now, I’m not claiming to be an expert, far from it. However, I am keen to understand more. So, at Young we’ve been engaging with various firms to see how we can reduce the carbon emissions of the businesses we are involved with. We own individual houses across the country. Many are standard housing stock built during the last hundred or so years.  To date we have implemented improvements such as LED lighting, light sensors, smart thermostats and roof insulation. Where next?

You can get lost in the options. You can get tied down in the detail and try and find the perfect solution. But this helps nobody. Over the next decade we are looking for incremental improvements. Nobody has all the ultimate solutions now. However, what we know now is the following:

  1. Improve Insulation – at Young we are looking at how best to insulate the houses we own. We are working with IRT to understand our portfolio – and how best to insulate. Thermal imaging (‘Thermogram’) is a great way to understand where your main issues are with heat loss. The thermogram below heat maps the external wall. The red indicates significant heat loss, the green moderate heat loss. Originally, the wall probably had better overall insulation but over the years it has dropped in the upper parts (red) potentially due to damp. Attending to heat loss through this house will ultimately reduce both the fuel usage and therefore the carbon footprint. This is a small example of how current technology can assist.

  1. Electricity is the future – although not yet, electricity by the 2030s should be net zero carbon.
  1. Solar – we want to put solar panels on all our houses, we will do this. But how to do it? We’re in conversations, but yet to decide how best to implement.
  1. We need to stop using fossil fuel – for most this means stop using gas. Will hydrogen be the answer, or is it (air or ground source) heat pumps? These currently seem the main options. We have (air source) heat pumps in some of our portfolio and are analysing if this is the solution. I’m pleased to say to date we’ve not had any issues with them from our residents. Feels like there will be another option here, but when, how long do we have to wait?
  1. We need to make the most of our current housing stock – we will continue to try and buy existing housing stock and not build new.

Other challenges are:

  1. Contractors – who can do the works? The big contractors are interested in helping improve the current housing stock (who wouldn’t, 30 million homes), but how will they deal with millions of individual owners? It is easier when you own portfolios, as we are finding, but it still feels we are at the pioneering stage.
  1. Financing – how to fund this work? There are companies that have funds that lend in this sector and receive their returns by the energy savings. This is attractive but ties you into long term agreements (20+years). The high street lenders are looking at offering green loans, interesting.

Of course, even if the works are not additive to yields/valuations/reduced utility bills – there is a moral step that we should all be taking for the benefit of the planet.

Have I oversimplified things? Maybe, please let me know.

Final thought: Isn’t it lucky that reducing carbon emitted from our homes seems to save on the running costs, imagine if it increased our utility bills!