the role of glazing in a fabric first approach and delivering the Government’s Net Zero agenda

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Our Chief Executive Jade Lewis recently spoke at the Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF) Members Day in September 2022, discussing the findings from our recent report ‘What Next for Heat and Buildings Policy?’.

Read Jade’s speech:

The last couple of years have been very eventful for anyone working in the sustainable energy sector with the Government publishing a whole host of policies and strategies.

Given that our buildings account for a third of the total Greenhouse Gas emissions, of which heating accounts for around 80%, it’s no surprise that heat and buildings has been a particular area of focus for policy development.

Alongside, the escalating energy bill crisis, this makes improving the energy efficiency of our buildings a necessity if we want to meet our target of net-zero by 2050, tackle climate change and deliver long term solutions for fuel poverty.

While all this new policy is a welcome change from the days of removing ‘Green Crap’, and hopefully those days are not back again, there are still a number of gaps to be addressed.

The SEA decided to take stock of where we are now, assess whether the existing policies will help the Government achieve their own targets and help us to fulfil our vision for delivering buildings fit for future generations.

The findings and our recommendations have been published in our recent report ‘What Next for Heat and Buildings Policy?’.

We have identified 5 key deliverables that must be addressed if we are to achieve our vision.

Firstly, that the knowledge and skills exist in the industry to deliver a holistic approach to decarbonising buildings, while enhancing health and wellbeing.

Secondly, good quality and high performance are the norm in the sustainable energy and energy efficiency sectors. A shift towards verified, in-use performance is required.

We need strong consumer and client demand for energy efficiency and low carbon heating solutions.

Also, rapid take up of innovation to advance the delivery of energy efficient and low carbon buildings.

But most importantly, we need long-term, joined up and effective policy and regulation to deliver energy efficiency and sustainable energy in our UK buildings.

The report focusses on the policy gaps across these five areas, and I’ll summarise some of the key findings for you now.

Long Term Policy

Firstly, long-term, joined-up policy.

The SEA’s work with the Government on ‘Designing an Effective Home Upgrade Grant Scheme’ found that short-term government funding schemes that are terminated in a last-minute decision distort the market, where-as a long-term guarantee instils confidence to enable upskilling, product development, service offering and innovation in the market. We must move away from stop-start funding.

There is a general reluctance to fully commit within our industry, with historical policy such as the Green Deal, and more recently the Green Homes Grant, being withdrawn after companies have spent valuable time and resources to prepare to play their part in the delivery. The industry has become wary of investing and is as a result more risk averse.

The Government can create greater certainty for industry by providing a roadmap with a long-term plan and clear goals, which allow time to help gear up the market and for industry to prepare. Once the roadmap is implemented, unplanned changes should be avoided. Cross-party consensus should be sought in advance to prevent changes occurring due to party politics.

The Energy Company Obligation is a scheme which has provided Energy Efficiency measures for millions of our most vulnerable households and entire businesses have been set up because of the certainty the scheme provides in terms of demand. The success of schemes such as ECO as a policy lay with its continuity.

The SEA has campaigned for many years to have legally binding Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards to provide confidence to the sector. These now need to be enforced. We still hear of poorly performing homes being let to unfortunate tenants. And the standards need to be extended into other sectors, like non-domestic.

Whole House, Multi-Measure, Fabric First Approach to Retrofit

The lack of an integrated offer on home retrofit for most households remains a real source of concern. The UK’s existing 26 million homes must be addressed, many of these properties will exist in 2050 so remain vital to achieving our target.

The UK’s housing stock is one of the oldest and worst insulated in Europe, with only around 15% of existing stock built since 1990. Most homes are expected to still be in place in 2050.  The UK Energy Research Centre has projected that approximately one million homes will need to be retrofitted each year for the next thirty years to meet the net zero target by 2050. 

We are supporting the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) in its call for a National Retrofit Strategy and in its action to make it a reality.

If the Government invested just over £5 billion by the end of this Parliament, then this would unlock 100,000 jobs, generate government revenues of more than £12 billion, and provide additional GDP of up to £21 billion.

The SEA supports a holistic, whole house approach to retrofit, starting with the building fabric. Energy efficiency offers a long-term solution to improving the well-being and health of a household by making it easier and cheaper to heat a home to an acceptable level of comfort; less energy wasted means lower energy bills. By addressing a building’s fabric first, the household will see the benefits for decades to come. While, the Heat and Buildings Strategy supported a fabric first approach, details of how this and energy efficiency would be delivered were not effectively addressed and there have been few policies to support its delivery.

The development of a building renovation passport would help in the delivery of a holistic retrofit approach, while minimising unintended consequences.

Knowledge and Skills

In order to deliver such an approach to retrofit, the industry needs to develop the knowledge and skills. The newbuild housing sector has the Future Homes Hub, however we do not have the same in the retrofit sector to help plug the knowledge and skills gap. A Retrofit Hub is required.

We need a competent workforce capable of renovating, designing and constructing buildings that are sustainable, net zero carbon, warm and healthy.

Quality and Performance

News of poor-quality installations negatively impacts on the whole sector. Delivering high quality and performance will be vital in building consumer trust. Also, in gaining the Government’s trust to invest in future energy efficiency schemes.

Industry skills must incorporate a whole house approach, so that those who install products have an awareness of the entire property and therefore can ensure an efficient installation without unintended consequences.

We also need to stop building homes and buildings that are energy inefficient. This will prevent us having to spend time and money on retrofitting them later. We would like to see requirements for all homes to demonstrate that design specifications have been achieved and high installation standards. We propose that from 2025, housebuilders need to confirm that the building meets the performance standard. Ensuring the in-use performance of energy efficiency measures will help lead to the effective decarbonisation of buildings.

Consumer Demand

A significant gap remains for the 60% of existing homes which are owner-occupied and not fuel poor, the so called ‘able-to-pay’ sector. True progress in Net-Zero needs to address this key stakeholder group, it is crucial to facilitate the movement away from a heavy reliance on government funding into an independent retrofit market which is self-sufficient and delivers at scale.

The SEA set out solutions for the able to pay sector in our 2020 report that focuses on encouraging action at key trigger points, where the homeowner is enabled or nudged towards the installation of energy efficiency measures, such as when they are moving home. For example, stamp duty or Council Tax adjustments, where households would pay less the more energy efficient the property is.

The SEA also advocates for an ECO+ Scheme, which would build upon the success of the current ECO scheme, bringing its benefits to the ‘able-to-pay’.

We require a government-backed, nationwide awareness and information campaign, as well as high-quality, independent, support and advice. There needs to be a commitment by Government to providing independent consumer advice through a ‘one stop shop’, as this will be crucial to helping homeowners through the transition.


Government schemes must also support the use of innovation to help the adoption of new and existing, but not widely adopted, technologies. SMEs have a considerable challenge to get their products certified and eligible for government schemes due to the costs and complexity involved. There must be an efficient process to allow businesses the chance to demonstrate the impact of their products and solutions and help aid the transition to Net-Zero, while ensuring quality.

There is very little support for companies innovating new products to gain access to government funded schemes. Therefore, the SEA has recently produced a helpful tips sheet that highlights the challenges, identifies the key stakeholders involved and provides a few helpful insights to getting through the extremely challenging process. A copy can be found on our website.

The SEA is now working with government departments and agencies to improve the innovation process, to prevent it being a barrier to new solutions that will help us decarbonise and improve our built environment.

Contribution of Glazing to the Fabric First and Government’s Agenda

So where does glazing fit into all of this?

Often windows and doors are overlooked as a key part of the building fabric in the policy world, largely because glazing is seen as an established market and products that consumers are happy to pay for, and because the pay back for the relative carbon savings isn’t there. However, there is no point insulating homes to a high standard and then allowing heat loss through energy in-efficient windows and doors. They are therefore an essential part of the building fabric.

The heat and buildings strategy has a core principle that ‘the journey to net zero buildings starts with better energy performance’ and reaffirms the Government’s commitment to a fabric first approach.

A fabric first approach to decarbonisation has broader benefits in lowering energy demand, reducing homeowner exposure to volatile energy prices, addressing the root cause of fuel poverty, improving thermal comfort, health and well-being for occupants.

During this current energy bill crisis, it is essential that we stop wasting heat and address energy demand of our buildings as well as energy supply. The SEA believes that the Energy Security Strategy does not place enough emphasis on energy efficiency, which is the most effective way to provide long term security against future energy bill rises.

According to the Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group, bringing all homes up to at least EPC Band C and so cutting energy demand in homes by 25% represents an energy saving equivalent to the annual output of six power stations the size of Hinkley Point C.

The NEA estimates that the number of UK households in fuel poverty following the April price cap rise has increased by 2 million, from 4.5 million to 6.5 million, an increase of more than 50% in just over six months. This means that almost a quarter of all UK households are in fuel poverty. Urgent action is needed!

Energy efficiency also provides additional benefits like supporting the UK’s transition to Net-Zero, stimulating investment in industry and improving comfort and wellbeing. 

The indoor built environment contributes directly to people’s health and wellbeing. Houses and buildings that cause or exacerbate health conditions cost the economy and our society each year: in healthy life years, reliance and use of healthcare services, educational attendance and attainment and work productivity and absenteeism. It is astonishing to note that the effects of poor housing cost the NHS a staggering 2.5 billion pounds per year, with the estimated social and economic cost of leaving people in poor housing in the region of 18 billion pounds per year.

We spend on average 90% of our time indoors, therefore addressing this alongside carbon reduction is an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.

While energy efficiency plays a significant role, healthy homes and buildings are about much more; including thermal comfort, air quality, acoustics, lighting, and views of the outdoors. Glazing therefore has a major role to play.

The Climate Change Committee has advised the Government that it is not enough to simply mitigate against climate change, but that the UK now needs to do much more on adaptation. Adaptation should be a requirement and priority for all buildings and that overheating and potential flooding present a very real threat to our way of life.  We need to build homes and buildings that are more resilient to the adverse impact of worsening weather conditions and temperature rises. Meaning that flood and storm resistance, overheating, etc all needs to be taken into account when designing and constructing buildings. The building fabric, including the glazing, can play a major role in preventing overheating.

Ultimately, net zero will mean completely moving away from burning fossil fuels for heating so the Heat and Buildings strategy places a significant focus on plans to drive down the cost of clean heat and incentivise consumers to install low carbon heating systems. The Government’s target is for all new heating systems by 2035 to either be using low carbon technologies or low carbon ready technologies, such as hydrogen ready boilers.

Heat Pumps are the Government’s preferred option for low carbon heating and require a good level of efficiency to run effectively. Therefore, as we decarbonise heating systems there is an increasing need to improve the building fabric.

In summary, the glazing can help with decarbonisation of buildings, in lowering energy demand, reducing homeowner exposure to volatile energy prices, addressing the root cause of fuel poverty, providing solutions for adaptation to climate change, improving thermal comfort, health and well-being for occupants. The glazing industry will therefore have a hugely important role to play in delivering the Government’s agenda and our vision – to make homes and buildings fit for the future.