Leanne Madden, Interview with a Retrofit CoordinatorApr 25, 2023
I am delighted to be able to interview you for “Her Own Space”. Leanne you are a Retrofit Coordinator and run L Retrofit, covering Essex, Greater London and Kent.
One of the reasons, this interview is really valuable to the group, is your profession is not only unknown to many, but also covers a vital area of consideration when undertaking home renovations which for the purpose of this interview will call “Retrofit”.
“Retrofit refers to any improvement work on an existing building to improve its energy efficiency, making them easier to heat, able to retain that heat for longer, and replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy.”
Centre for Sustainable Energy
1. So tell us a bit about you and how did you become a Retrofit Coordinator?
My father is a property developer and from a young age I was interested in Architecture. At the age of 16 I took part in two weeks work experience in an Architects practice and I went on to study Architectural Design, Technology and Production at University. In 2008 I completed my dissertation ‘Are Existing Homes in The U.K. Able to Comply With The New British Carbon Emissions Targets?’. My conclusion then was yes, but action needed to be taken by the Government to encourage this in order to protect households against future energy price rises!
I went on to work as an Architectural Technologist and then Project Manager within practices specialising in existing and new build, residential Architecture.
A discussion with a friend brought the role of Retrofit Assessor to my attention. I hadn’t heard of this previously and I quickly went away to research it. As I started to understand the role, I came to realise that there was a group of specialist consultants being born from 'Retrofit'. This was something which I wanted to be a part of.
I quickly enrolled in training and obtained qualifications as an energy assessor, Retrofit Assessor and Retrofit Coordinator. I also enrolled onto a business course at my local adult college and began to work on my brand and website. In June 2022 L RETROFIT launched, with the ambition to help householders identify, plan and install energy efficient measures to a high quality in their homes.
2. What type of projects do you work on and who would be your client?
I have been working with homeowners who do not qualify for Government funding but wish to understand how they may improve the internal comfort of their home and reduce their energy bills. This might be as part of larger scale works to the property such as renovation and extensions, or it can be just focussing on improving what is already there.
I am qualified to work on all residential properties, including Listed Buildings and properties within Conservation areas.
3. How should women in the UK managing home renovations factor in the concept of “Retrofit” adaptations into their projects?
I would recommend that anyone who is planning to strip their property back to its bones or undertake extensive works, should contact a Retrofit Coordinator and have a 'Retrofit Assessment and medium term plan of their property carried out. This will highlight any defects, such as damp, and how this may be resolved. It will then showcase a number of suitable energy efficiency measures, which could be installed along with their estimated installation costs, their potential fuel cost savings, carbon reductions and the potential EPC rating of the property.
A Medium Term Plan, which will include one or several packages of measures, can be installed within the property in phases.
These assessments and plans will allow the homeowner to take a considered approach to their project. They can research what can be done themselves or what measures would need specialist contractors to install. Someone who is good with DIY may decide that they can lift floorboards and install floor insulation, but installing external wall insulation and render may be a step too far for most.
The plan would highlight in what order the works should be done to avoid blocking future retrofit measures. This is also valuable to a homeowner who is thinking of breaking the work up into smaller packages.
4. Describe the part you would play and at what point in a home renovation project would you be involved?
Ideally, I would be contacted at the very beginning when the project is an idea that has not yet been developed. My role is to establish the existing efficiency and condition of the property and what repair/maintenance and energy improvements it may benefit from.
When carrying out my review, I will consider the homeowners requirements which may be timescale, budget, larger scale works, so that I do not for instance, propose to insulate a wall which is being demolished for a new extension.
If a client has an Architect involved, I am able to work with the Architect and offer advice and guidance on retrofitting, to be included as part of their detailed design and specification.
5. Can you explain how the stages of your delivery would work and how long would it take?
When a homeowner contacts me, I first like to discuss what services I can offer and what can be expected from the information which I produce. If this is suitable, I will carry out a desktop study of the property, its size and shape, surroundings, and planning history. This helps me to build an idea of the propertys' current condition and likely potential for improvements. From this I am able to provide a quotation.
If my quotation is acceptable then I will agree a day and time for the Retrofit Assessment to be undertaken, this typically will take 2 hours. Before the survey I will send a more detailed questionnaire to obtain information on occupancy and energy consumption and any knowledge of improvements made to the property. I will also request a 50% upfront payment which covers the cost of the pre-survey desktop study and the survey itself.
The Retrofit Assessment will be completed by the assessor and the information obtained will be entered into software. This will produce its current estimated energy efficiency and its potential for improvements. These will be considered alongside the condition report to ensure all proposed measures are suitable.
I will then arrange for a virtual meeting to be held, where I present the suitable improvement options, explain their potential costs and savings and discuss how a collection of measures which we call packages, can work together to create suitable payback periods. At this meeting we will agree if there are measures which should be excluded or prioritised within the final Medium Term Plan, and we agree if there will be one single package to form a single whole house retrofit, or if the proposals need to be split to suit current planned works and future potential works.
Following this meeting the outstanding 50% payment will be due and I will commence on the Medium Term Plan. This plan does not include design and specifications, it is not created as a tender document. The Medium Term Plan is presented to you, the homeowner, which includes measures we have chosen and how we have packaged them. It will provide the potential costs (not quotes) and savings for each package. The plan will highlight where there were defects found which need to be considered for repair and where improvements to ventilation will be necessary to avoid moisture build up as a result of insulating. It may also recommend the suitability of certain materials over others, for consideration.
For the above services the costs will vary depending upon the property size and complexity, a typical 3 bed semi-detached two storey house would start at £625.
There are additional services which my company can offer which include pre and post thermal imaging and air pressure testing, and where necessary, technical surveys to investigate if cavity walls are filled or suitable for filling or damp investigations, these are undertaken by external consultants which I can obtain quotations for and manage on the homeowners behalf. We can also obtain design details and specifications for your planned works by qualified professionals, help you to tender your project and appoint a contractor and oversee their works onsite. Our services can be as detailed as you require and we are always happy to discuss this, and review it as a project progresses.
Please do be aware that Retrofit Coordinators will have different services which they can offer so it is important when obtaining quotations that you discuss exactly what they can or cannot provide and if this fits your needs.
6. What are the main reasons a client’s project may go wrong in terms of future proofing their home?
Using contractors who do not understand the importance of what are suitable materials and installing them incorrectly. Materials and our understanding of them has changed considerably in the last 10years, just because a contractor has always done it this way and never had any issues doesn’t mean it is the right way.
A homeowner may choose to manage their project themselves, often to save costs, but they need to be able to understand the products that have been specified, be able to read drawings and manufacturers specifications and have the confidence to question their contractor and ask for things to be put right if it looks wrong. These works are not things which can be easily corrected later, poorly installed insulation will perform poorly. It is best to get these things right at the very beginning and that management fee for a professional could save you a lot more over time.
Quite often, homeowners will undertake improvements which unknowingly block future retrofit measures. Things like installing new hardwood flooring to the ground floor which may have a 20 year life expectancy, without first adequately insulating and ventilating the floor. The homeowner has then lost the potential to insulate this floor until the flooring needs to be replaced in 20 years time. That’s a huge loss of fuel and carbon savings over that period of time.
7. What do you predict may be the real challenges home owners face in the next year and how could they overcome these?
I believe that the biggest impact that homeowners are going to face is the challenge to keep up with inflation.
Whilst the Government are driving 'Retrofit' through incentives targeting Social Housing and Low Income households, there is currently a low demand for Retrofit from self-funding homeowners.
As self-funding homeowners are encouraged by Government or Lenders to undertake energy efficiency improvements to their homes, retrofit qualified contractors will become more in demand which means they can be less competitive in pricing. In addition to this, materials will be harder to obtain and therefore their prices will increase too.
8. Within your industry what are the most important developments happening and how do you predict your role evolving?
There is a thing called green home premium happening, where there is evidence to suggest that properties with higher energy ratings are becoming more desirable and attracting a higher market value compared to those which are less efficient.
There are also suggestions being made that Mortgage Lenders may offer better interest rates to more energy efficient properties, and that they may see inefficient properties as a greater risk due to higher running costs.
I believe that these changes will increase the need for professional advice on retrofitting, including how much it will cost and what the potential improvements will offer in terms of running costs and the potential energy rating of the home.
I also feel that as homeowners are becoming more aware of 'Retrofit' and the need for quality installations to produce optimum energy efficiency, the value of a consultant will be realised and they will seek Coordinators to help them find suitably trained contractors and oversee their work onsite.
9. If there were 3-5 key pieces of advice you would give home owners considering retrofitting their home, what would they be?
- Take a look at the condition of your home, inside and outside and spend some time maintaining it where necessary. A disconnected rainwater pipe or loose bit of mortar could be causing some water penetration and a damp wall is highly inefficient. Just drying walls out with a bit of maintenance and adequate heating and ventilation can improve the thermal performance of the wall greatly.
- Consider all retrofit options available, if you are installing a new kitchen or bathroom then get the walls and flooring insulated first as generally these rooms won't be renovated again for a long period of time and you won't want to take out your recently installed bath and tiling to do this.
- Do not insulate without ventilating. You are effectively forming a nice airtight seal around your home when you start to insulate a home and you have to have adequate ventilation to prevent the moisture you produce inside your home from causing condensation and mould growth.
- Research materials, the cheapest isn’t always the best. Foil backed insulation is popular and easy to install but if your house or a certain room gets uncomfortable in the summer, this material will worsen this as it traps heat inside. Solid wall constructions which are designed to be breathable structures can become damp if you apply a material to one side which is not breathable. There are materials with good thermal mass available which allow a solid wall to breathe whilst reducing overheating in the summer and insulating in the winter.
- Don’t let pay-back costs cloud your judgement. That £1,000 of insulation now might only save you £100 a year on bills but it will make your home easier to heat-up and it will decrease draughts which means the property will be more comfortable in winter. These will result in your home being more suitable for using heat pumps to replace central heating in the future as gas boilers are phased out. It could also boost your EPC rating considerably, which we know may have an impact on re-sale value and appeal.
10. What do you think needs to happen to improve understanding and action in the UK residential property market towards “Retrofitting” one’s home?
The term ‘Retrofit’ needs to be more widely publicised. There are actually very few people who know what Retrofit is and therefore no one really knows about the roles of Retrofit Assessors and Coordinators, and how they can help.
Homeowners need to be advised where they can find this professional and unbiased help in understanding what is possible and at what costs, and then how to take this to installation and get a quality product at the end.
If you are thinking of retrofitting your home and want advice then a good place to start is the Trustmark website.
I would encourage everyone to take a look at the following link which explains 'Retrofit' to homeowners in more detail, has a retrofitting guide and some useful short videos.
Please feel free to contact Leanne Madden if you would like to discuss any upcoming projects.