Consumer insight: Understanding how to motivate whole-house retrofit

In-depth consumer research into the motivations behind improving the energy efficiency of our homes
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February 23, 2021

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As part of our Accelerator Cities programme, supported by EIT Climate-KIC, UKGBC commissioned in-depth consumer research to better understand how to encourage householders to take a ‘whole-house’ retrofit approach, rather than just focusing on specific energy-saving measures.

Conducted via in-depth interviews in December 2020, the research explored the experiences of 10 homeowners across England who were wither considering or had already undertaken measures to improve energy efficiency.

Key findings of the report include:

  • Most householders are attracted to the idea of a whole-house plan once it is explained to them, especially the benefits of knowing upfront how to sequence measures and ensure forward compatibility. Those contemplating more extensive works indicate they would willingly pay for the service.
  • Householders believe that installing a modern gas boiler is an ‘energy-efficient’ thing to do. This echoes the findings from previous research, that consumers are genreally not aware of the impact boilers have on carbon emissions, even those who epress a strong commitment to the environment. The research indicated that once they know, they may think again.
  • There is a potential framing and policy an opportunity around the intersection of electric vehicle (EV) ownership and renewable-electricity generation. Householders can be very attracted to the idea of self-sufficiency and what they see as driving for ‘free’. This suggests opportunities to incentivise these elements together as a package.This appeal of ‘free’ energy might also extend to encouraging take up of heat pumps by those who can use onsite renewable-energy generation to power them.
  • Findings suggest that a feeling of ‘future proofing’ is appealing to householders. They recognise that taking measures to increase energy efficiency will protect them from energy price rises, flattening or declining income, e.g., in retirement, and from possible future legislation. This suggests an opportunity to shift the narrative from a focus on short-term payback.
  • Householders’ decisions are strongly affected by the length of time they expect to stay in their current home.
  • Householders surveyed categorised measures according to three stages of a whole-house retrofit ‘journey’, with a perception that benefits decline as costs increase. For example, replacing a working gas boiler with renewable heating falls into the third stage of ‘Paying for little perceived gain’, where householders can currently feel there is a risk they may be paying more for potentially-less-effective heating systems.