A data-led approach to retrofit

How IRT Surveys – and its DREam platform – is helping social landlords take a data-led approach to retrofit programmes.

Housing associations need to ensure their building stock reaches EPC level C by 2030, but the increasing pressure of rising energy bills –­ and fuel poverty – means that social landlords are at the forefront of the work to make homes more energy efficient now.

This means assessing their housing stock and identifying areas that can be improved, whether that’s the fabric of the building or other measures that can be installed to keep energy bills under control for residents, while creating a comfortable and safe environment.

To get started on a retrofit programme, social landlords need to understand where they are now and exactly what condition their properties are in, says Lisa Cairns, Business Development Manager at IRT Surveys. The company is helping social landlords plan and carry out retrofit programmes, including the use of thermal surveys as well as the cloud-based DREam platform, which assesses the energy performance of buildings, based on the data provided.

dashboard of energy software
The DREam dashboard

Cleaning up housing data

Lisa Cairns says that the housing associations’ data is often not in the best condition at the start of the process. She says: “The state of the data can be pretty poor, so landlords are needing to hand it over so that we can clean it up and get it workable – then we can start modelling and pulling together retrofit programmes.”

When data is in a bad condition, Lisa explains, this could mean multiple sets of data in different, incompatible formats, or data that contains unexplained inconsistencies. She says: “It can be as simple as two or three different data sets spread across two or three different departments. Asset management might have one set of data and then the environmental team could have another, for example – so although they are all using software platforms, there might not be a joined up system.

“Larger houses associations will often have a better grip on their data, as they will tend to have someone specific whose job it is, or they’ll have a data analyst, but the mid sized and smaller ones, those with under 10,000 homes, they can struggle with how to get their data into a format that’s workable. They’ve never been in a position to make sure the data is up to date in order to digitalise the stock.”

A project will often begin – and end – with thermal surveys of the houses. The first surveys are carried out at the beginning to identify issues such as incorrectly installed installation or other poor workmanship. The data might tell you a house has insulation installed, but if it was done badly and has since become home to several families of rats, for example, it’s not going to be fit for purpose – only a thermal survey will give a landlord the true picture. The final surveys are done to show the difference an effective retrofit makes. Lisa says: “A survey will tell you if the loft is insulated already. It will tell you if there’s thermal bridging, if the render’s cracked or other similar issues.” Issues that could impact the effectiveness of any additional retrofit measures that are installed, so need to be dealt with before any other work is carried out.

Automated energy auditing

Once the data has been cleaned, and any anomalies clarified, this is where the DREam platform comes in. With its automated energy auditing system – DREam users add their buildings’ data and the software comes up with the most cost-effective way to carry out energy-saving retrofits. Using DREam removes any uncertainty that could arise, optimising retrofit plans for both effectiveness and affordability. Lisa says: “It allows us to give a roadmap of works, we’ll run the data through the software and it’ll create a report that says if you apply these measures to these properties, this is the result that you’ll get within your budget.”

The sort of information used by DREam is mainly the type of thing you’d see on an EPC, Lisa says. “Everything to do with the building, the building fabric and also boiler or heating type and any additional information you have, for example if there has been changes such as insulation or solar PV installation.” It will identify which properties are most in need of work, which will involve the most investment, meaning landlords can prioritise according to their goals (and budget). Crucially, it will also recommend relevant funding pots that are available.

Intelligent retrofit

IRT Surveys was acquired by Mears Group last month and Executive Director Alan Long had this to say about the move: “We now have the in-house capacity to develop intelligent retrofit plans for our clients whilst meaning we can assess the carbon reduction needs of any new properties entering our management portfolio.

“The technology from IRT was used to win 3 contracts under the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund earlier this year, highlighting that this is a tested formula for successful future bids with our clients.

“With IRT joining the Mears team we are combining two companies with over 50 years’ experience in their respective markets whilst boosting the Mears presence as one of the UK’s experts in carbon reduction.”

IRT Surveys’ CEO, Stewart Little, is on the panel for an elemental webinar on data-led retrofit. To watch the session visit: crowdcast.io/e/the-role-of-metrics-in