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Demolition or Refurbishment of Social Housing? A review of the evidence

Crawford, K; Johnson, CE; Davies, F; Joo, S; Bell, S; (2014) Demolition or Refurbishment of Social Housing? A review of the evidence. UCL Urban Lab and Engineering Exchange: London, UK. Green open access


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This report provides a review of technical models, evidence and case studies for decision making relating to the retention or demolition of social housing stock. Technical assessments of building suitability for refurbishment or demolition are often based on models of building performance. These include energy performance of the building compared to standards for new buildings, and assessment of environmental and energy impacts of the building over its lifetime from construction to demolition. Decisions can also be based on a series of performance and cost indicators. All modelling and indicator based approaches require assumptions about the building and the economic and policy context in which regeneration will take place, which need to be examined and justified in each case. Evaluation of the economic case for refurbishment is sensitive to the institutional factors such as the UK retrofit supply chain and market; tenure types and management capacity; access to finance and/or willingness to invest. Typical cost indicators are capital expenditure, operational and maintenance expenditure and capital investment appraisal. Estimating the costs and impacts of refurbishment or demolition is complex, uncertain and subjective – especially where nonmonetary costs and benefits have to be assigned a value. Finance mechanisms for refurbishment are less well established than for construction. The energy performance of a building is an increasingly important consideration in decisions to demolish or refurbish, and it has a big impact on the health of residents and the cost of their energy bills. Energy is used by residents as they live in a building throughout its lifetime. Energy is also used to manufacture building materials and construct the building in the first place and then in demolition, reusing, recycling and moving materials to dispose of them. Reducing carbon emissions associated with the built environment means reducing the emissions associated with the whole lifecycle of buildings. However, refurbishment and retrofitting of buildings, including insulation, replacing windows and boilers, heating networks, and installing renewable energy, can improve the performance of existing buildings to near-new standards. Decarbonising the UK electricity grid will also reduce the climate change impacts of energy used in buildings, and will increase the relative importance of embodied carbon and energy in the lifecycle impacts of a building. Case studies demonstrate that even older, high rise or poorly insulated structures, known as hard to treat buildings, can be retrofitted to achieve high energy efficiency standards. In these cases, the costs of retrofitting compared to demolition and new construction can also be lower, particularly when construction work has been organised so that residents have been able to stay in their homes avoiding the costs and disruption of temporarily housing people elsewhere. The carbon emissions associated with building use depend on the source of energy used. Increased low carbon sources of energy to produce electricity on the grid in the future may reduce the environmental impacts of energy used in homes. Research has shown that there are often differences between the predicted and actual performance of buildings (performance gaps) and that people sometimes adapt their behaviour in ways that increase consumption after an energy efficiency project (rebound effects). Performance gaps and rebound effects are often not taken into account when assessing benefits to residents like a reduction in bills or improvements in thermal comfort. If future savings have been over-estimated, it is residents (rather than the professionals estimating the savings) who are doubly and disproportionately penalised, firstly, because what has been promised is not delivered and, secondly, because they pay the energy bills. Relatively simple water efficiency retrofitting can achieve savings of 17.5 litres per person per day, compared with the London average of 160 litres of water used per person per day. Sustainable drainage methods can also be cost effectively retrofitted into existing buildings and estates, delivering a wide range of benefits including reduced overheating of buildings. The construction and demolition sector contributes 35% of all waste in the UK every year. Much of this is due to demolition waste. The UK construction sector currently recycles 73% of its waste, but still contributes more than 4 million tonnes of waste to landfill each year. Recycling demolition waste reduces the environmental impacts of demolition, but refurbishment avoids waste to landfill and many of the environmental impacts of new construction. Improving the quality of social housing stock is essential to reduce health inequalities in the UK. Housing has significant impacts on mental and physical health and wellbeing, and should be a key factor in regeneration decision making. Refurbishment can deliver improvements in housing quality at a faster rate than demolition and rebuilding of social housing, but health issues such as ventilation and indoor air quality can be complex issues to address in refurbishment. Refurbishment of buildings presents opportunities for the creation of jobs requiring a new set of skills that will be in demand if the UK is to meet its carbon emission reduction targets. Operation of renewable energy systems also provides opportunities for community development through refurbishment of buildings and estates. It is clear that the ability for communities to engage in refurbishment and demolition decisions would be enhanced by a consistent and transparent approach to the reporting of lifecycle costs, energy and carbon, water and waste and monitoring the wellbeing of those affected by refurbishment and demolition. The literature reviewed here is emerging from different fields – engineers, energy modellers, planners and public health specialists – and shows some useful results but is often hard to disaggregate in a way that shows how the effects of refurbishment and demolition play out for different groups of people. However, many aspects of refurbishment and demolition are complex and interact with each other: what is needed is a more balanced inter-disciplinary view of what housing interventions mean for people, and who the winners and losers are in the short and longer term.

Type: Report
Title: Demolition or Refurbishment of Social Housing? A review of the evidence
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Publisher version: http://www.engineering.ucl.ac.uk/engineering-excha...
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment > Bartlett School Env, Energy and Resources
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1452484
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