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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Overcoming a 50+ year lockin: Sustainable and equitable policy to retrofit the UK housing stock to mitigate climate change

Within the UK, residential buildings accounts for 20% of carbon emissions each year. Despite various government policies over the past 20 years, building fabric retrofits remain slow. While studies have quantified potential theoretical energy savings and others identified barriers homeowners face; few studies have mapped the housing stock and paired it to targeted policies ensuring all types of houses are covered. This research aims to demonstrate a new method of assessing the needs of the housing stock, a new method of selecting effective policy, and lastly recommends a sustainable suite of policies to mobilise people to retrofit their homes.

Firstly, I map the English housing stock in a material flow analysis, combining technical and socio-economic factors, resulting in a novel approach to classify housing typologies. Secondly, I link the current UK Heat and Building Strategy to these typologies to identify gaps, followed by selecting targeted policies based on international best practice using a literature review and applying a barrier framework. Thirdly, I test the feasibility of these proposals with semi-structured interviews on a selection of homeowners and landlords, validating assumed barriers and generating new policy considerations.

While the results indicate that two thirds of the housing stock require retrofit, encouragingly the majority are classed as one-off measures instead of deep retrofits. Critically, the government’s current plans lack anything specifically tailored to flats, and no incentives in place for the rental or owner-occupied market. These gaps can be filled by German-type low interest loans for homeowners with additional provisions (one-stop shop contractors) for deep retrofits, Estonia inspired bespoke financial assistance to blocks of flats, and an improved EPC assessment required before and after retrofit. Strong regulations such as the minimum energy efficiency standards should be applied to both the owner occupied and private rented sector together. Lastly, interviews confirm that barriers vary by house typology and have revealed new barriers, indicating that policy proposals should be tested with the electorate before implementation.

This research contributes to the field by demonstrating a new method of analysis for energy efficiency policy design. Specifically, it has categorised the housing stock and proposed a suite of targeted policies that cater to every house type, enabling the UK to meet its decarbonization goals.



Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.