Blog from Catrin Maby – A Passport to a better building future? Putting the Building Renovation Passport in context

It’s good to see the growing support for the concept of the ‘Building Renovation Passport’, defined by BPIE in their 2016 study as ‘a document – in electronic or paper format – outlining a long-term (up to 15 or 20 years) step-by-step renovation roadmap for a specific building, resulting from an on-site energy audit fulfilling specific quality criteria and indicators established during the design phase and in dialogue with building owners’ (Building Renovation Passport – Customised Roadmaps towards deep renovations and better homes, November 2016).

This approach is a big step forward from the basic Energy Performance Certificate, which provides a ‘snapshot’ assessment, and was designed after all as an asset rating device rather than an advisory tool – and which has evolved as a simplified energy audit, based on relatively limited data sets to reduce costs. The Building Renovation Passport, if implemented in full, improves on this is a number of ways. It must be based on a more comprehensive energy assessment, which aims at deep energy retrofit, and allows for this to be achieved over an extended period of time – more realistic for many homes and households, both because of costs and disruption. It also allows for the inclusion of energy improvements within the cycle of home repairs, maintenance and improvements, which is a logical and realistic way forward given the need and demand for this kind of work, with or without public sector intervention.

Much as I like the idea of the Building Renovation Passport, I am unnerved by the emergence of recommendations for this as an apparently single and simple solution to the need for awareness raising, information, advice and assistance for homeowners. Let’s be careful not to fall into the trap (however tempting) of fixating on one tool as the solution to a complex policy challenge. In order to achieve deep energy and carbon savings, building owners need advice to support them through all stages of renovation, and to help them over the many possible hurdles, identifying and prioritising technologies to apply, deciding when, how and by who, and finding the money to pay for it. The Building Renovation Passport could be a very useful tool as part of an effective energy advisory service to support deep renovation – but it is just a tool, and not a full support service in itself.

Let’s also be wary of any dumbing down of the approach going forward – the endless search for cheaper ways to do things has a nasty tendency to have this effect on even the best ideas….and let’s not forget that cheaper is not always more cost effective…. The 2016 BPIE study documents three different pilots of the Building Renovation Passport, each with a different approach, and an expansion and replication of this initiative would ideally learn lessons and take the best from each of these.

There are several important features which should not be lost as this approach developed. One of these is that the plan is regularly updated, taking in any changes that have been made to the building.

Another is that it is readily transferable to new owners/occupants – I am a little confused by the more recent references (Building Renovation Passports: consumer’s journey to a better home, BPIE Policy Factsheet, 2017) to the Passport as a ‘personalised’ plan. While the advice that accompanies it must indeed be personalised, I would think that the document itself needs to be specific to the building, rather than the current occupants, to ensure this transferability. The significance of this is more obvious of course in regions where the average time that owner-occupiers stay in each home is shorter.

A third comes in a variation in the approach taken in the pilots, and is whether the Building Renovation Passport is linked to ’a repository of building-related information (logbook) on aspects such the energy consumption and production, executed maintenance and building plans’.   To my mind, this is a crucially useful feature, integrating energy with other practical building issues, which all owners and occupants should have access to – for their own safety as well as the effective protection of their property. This could, for example, include electrical and gas installation details and certifications, water supply and drainage (how many building occupants don’t know where or how to turn off their water?), and, crucially, fire safety information and documentation of any building changes that could compromise this. This very practical aspect of the ‘Building Passport’ approach makes more sense of it as part of an integrated approach to managing the ongoing maintenance of a home, rather than treating energy efficiency concerns in isolation.

So three cheers for the Building Renovation Passport initiative to build a better tool than the Energy Performance Certificate to support building owners in achieving deep energy renovation. Let’s make sure that these Passports are the best they could be, and are embedded in effective energy advisory services which help people through every stage of achieving this dream.

Catrin Maby is a member of the Energy Advice Exchange.

 

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