Could MMC solve the UK’s retrofitting challenge?

Could MMC solve the UK’s retrofitting challenge?

The UK needs to get its domestic buildings fit to meet its ambitious goal of net zero by 2050. We need a fast, scalable solution. That solution could be MMC–Modern Methods of Construction.

Right now, we still rely on fossil fuels for 78% of the UK’s energy needs, and our housing stock isn’t energy-efficient enough to hit the net zero target. With an energy crisis, a cost-of-living crisis, and a climate crisis on our hands, we need a “national war effort” to solve this, in the words of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee.

The UK needs to get its domestic buildings fit to meet its ambitious goal of net zero by 2050. We need a fast, scalable solution. That solution could be MMC (Modern Methods of Construction.)

Right now, we still rely on fossil fuels for 78% of the UK’s energy needs, and our housing stock isn’t energy-efficient enough to hit the net zero target. With an energy crisis, a cost-of-living crisis, and a climate crisis on our hands, we need a “national war effort” to solve this, in the words of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee.

It’s a significant challenge. Just 11% of Scotland’s 2.5m homes have renewable or low emissions heating, and just 45% are at or above EPC Band C. And that’s still better than England, where only 41% of our 24.66m homes are at that level. Yet new homes that won’t meet net-zero standards are still being built–while the UK falls further behind its goal.

MMC could turn this around by retrofitting existing homes quickly, at scale, and to the high standards we need. MMC approaches range from sub-assemblies and open panels to fully volumetric modular, but for retrofitting, manufacturing panelised retrofit solutions offsite using specialist technologies and equipment should make the most sense. These panels could be installed onto the fabric of homes to bring their energy efficiency up to scratch, create huge opportunities for the construction industry, and cut our emissions and dependence on fossil fuels.

Because MMC solutions can be mass-produced, they could be delivered efficiently at speed and at scale, saving both money and energy (as well as the nerves of the people living in the homes, for whom a quick panel installation would be much less disruptive than traditional retrofitting).

Few UK companies offer MMC at scale as yet, but Europe has seen successful MMC retrofitting projects. For example, the delightfully named Energiesprong, a Dutch-led initiative, has used MMC to turn existing homes into net-zero homes that generate all the energy they need. We recruit for a specialist timber frame panel manufacturer in the Midlands, who are scanning homes, then creating custom fit energy efficient frontages that attach with minimal disruption, and they have huge potential for much larger scaling. This is achieved using offsite manufactured components, which can be installed without the inhabitants needing to leave their homes.

However, things are a little trickier in the UK, which has Europe’s oldest housing stock, including many listed buildings. Maintaining the architectural character of important buildings while improving energy efficiency is a balancing act.

Projects like Glasgow’s Niddrie Road, which retrofitted sandstone tenement flats that are over 100 years old, have explored how to manage this. Niddrie Road’s retrofit is expected to cut energy use by 90%, cut living costs for tenants, and improve their quality of life–although they did have to leave their homes to accommodate the extra-careful retrofitting process.

While there’s clearly still more research to do, MMC could be the scalable, sustainable, quality solution the UK needs–and with about 25m homes that would benefit from retrofitting in the next 20 years, whoever develops effective solutions will be seizing a tremendous opportunity.

With the fate of the planet at stake, this shouldn’t be about competition. The private and public sectors, the government, academia, and R&D facilities need to work together to solve the retrofit challenge for the good of all.

ARV Solutions would be particularly keen to speak to manufacturers seeking specialist skills to help them on this journey. Contact us to start the conversation.