National Retrofit Hub champions digital building logbooks to drive retrofit trust

Speakers at InstallerSHOW’s ‘Get Retro Fit’ panel session say a lack of trust from both installers and consumers is jeopardising retrofit progress, but digital building logbooks could provide a way through.

“Retrofit is a massive opportunity, and we know it’s coming.” Speaking at InstallerSHOW’s Housing Hub panel ‘Get Retro Fit’, Rachael Owens from the National Retrofit Hub opened the session with an optimistic tone. However, she says, there are challenges in realising this opportunity. “If the industry doesn’t change, there’s a risk that we’ll have to create a brand new sector to get the job done, which would be a huge waste of the skills and resources that already exist.”

Making this change means overcoming a number of key obstacles, says Sara Edmonds, Co-Director at the National Retrofit Hub. “Firstly, the boom-bust cycle we’ve seen in recent years has not been helpful in building confidence or investment. Secondly, there’s a lack of clarity around standards and frameworks. There’s also low awareness and confidence in installers transitioning to new technology, and a lack of clear messaging with households.” Addressing these issues, she says, will create a much-needed atmosphere of trust and confidence.

A lack of confidence

Alex Baines, Head of Building Better at Saint-Gobain, says that attitudes have evolved over the last decade. “Back in 2016 everything was a single-means approach, so work was siloed and ultimately failing. Today, everyone is confident in what they know, but this means the things they don’t know are clearer, so there’s a lack of confidence in the way people can work together.” In other words, the industry is facing the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Creating consistent messaging is also a challenge, says Jo Aslop, Home Heating Champion at the Heating Hub. “We need gas and oil installers to switch over to heat pumps. In the past, government messaging around heat pumps was compromised by a lot of hydrogen noise, which is now abating, but we still hear about installers creating mixed messages for homeowners, which leads to confusion. We need consistent messaging that creates trust.”

Upskilling is critical

Training and upskilling will play a key role here, although Aslop acknowledges that while there’s growing interest in retrofit training, opportunities are not keeping pace. “We don’t necessarily need to create brand new training programmes, but instead we can integrate retrofitting into existing training.”

David Nugent, CEO at Canopy Housing, which works with a wide stakeholder base to increase awareness of retrofitting among installers and homeowners, says that there are massive economic opportunities here. “If we achieve retrofitting at the scale we need then we could probably halve unemployment.”

Digital building logbooks

According to the panel, the normalisation of digital building logbooks could address a lot of these challenges. These would serve as a mechanism for storing a wide range of data about an individual building, including retrofit assessments, leading to whole-house retrofit plans. If added to consistently, each digital logbook would build a complete picture of a property. “These would enable installers to see what’s right for the building beyond their specific job,” says Edmonds, who adds that several organisations, including Wales’ Optimised Retrofit Programme, are working together to explore ways of implementing this tool.

A further benefit is time and resource savings. “With all the relevant data in one place, you won’t need to repeat processes, which is especially beneficial to homeowners who don’t always trust installers to have their best interests at heart,” says Baines.

“An installer’s work can only be as good as the foundations they’re working with,” Baines concludes. “A digital building log provides more information which means retrofitting can be more relevant, done better and carried out more efficiently, which then improves confidence among installers and consumers, which then improves trust within the whole industry. This is the push that retrofitting needs.”