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OPINION: Making all of our homes energy efficient is one of the great challenges of the next decade – and one we cannot afford to shirk

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Highlands and Islands Green MSP Ariane Burgess.
Highlands and Islands Green MSP Ariane Burgess.

Our homes expend lots of energy for all the things we do without thinking, especially heating, but also how far we travel to and from home to meet our needs. There is urgent work to be done over the next ten years to lower the carbon emissions that come from the way we live in our homes.

This need to transition our homes from being high carbon emitters to net zero is so important that in Parliament, at my committee on Local Government, Housing and Planning, we took evidence on how we can do that through retrofitting our existing homes. Those of us living in an existing home are necessarily going to be involved – whether we rent or own our homes.

As part of the Committee’s process of taking evidence we visited a retrofit demonstration project in Glasgow. The Niddrie Road tenement was being retrofitted to the energy saving standard EnerPHit. If you have heard of Passivhaus, this is the existing homes retrofit version. EnerPhit is a high standard that some feel is going to be hard to reach for all housing stock in Scotland. The Association for Environment Conscious Building offer another retrofit standard that could be more rapidly achievable. Although, tenements are not the main housing type in Inverness and the Highlands, the principles are the same.

Energy efficiency must be tackled.
Energy efficiency must be tackled.

Whichever standard is adopted what we must take a “fabric first” approach. When responding to the need to reduce our carbon emissions the tendency is to think about changing our heating system to a renewable form but even before that we must think about the fabric of the building. We could install the best renewable energy heating system but, if our homes are poorly insulated, we will still have to expend energy to heat them.

In the next decade, we will all have to engage with the national retrofitting project. There are many variables but if we approach it together, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, street by street we could all learn from and support each other.

The government must give us clear indications of the way forward, especially how we are going to fund this transition. I know for some of you who want to act it has been frustrating as the pathway for doing this work has not been defined yet.

I will continue pressuring the government to deliver on retrofitting. In January I will lead a debate on retrofitting and calling for the Scottish Government to define clear pathways to make it more accessible for us to all play our part in the national home retrofit project.

Ariane Burgess is a Highlands and Islands Green MSP.

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