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Barriers to Low and Zero carbon homes

The following section highlights some of the key barriers to the diffusion of LZC new build and retrofit in the UK. Although many of the issues are fairly consistent between both new build and retrofit, where  innovation and adoption faces similar barriers, there are a number of areas where the challenges diverge. These barriers are associated with concerns over the economic benefits, technical challenges and shortfalls and the cultural and behaviour attitudes that may inhibit the transition to a predominantly low energy building regime.

  1. Retrofit

The following section includes a discussion of the range of barriers identified in the academic literature, as presenting key obstacles to the further diffusion of low carbon retrofit in the UK housing stock. This includes reference to policy interventions as identified in and to what extent these initiatives have addressed these barriers.

  1. Cultural/behavioural barriers and issues

In addition to the characteristics of the retrofit interventions and the economic incentives associated, the users’ attributes will also affect technology adoption and how it is used. Such attributes include the household’s attitudes towards the environment, their values, perceived levels of control and habits (Owen et al., 2014).

It is considered that many people do not see energy performance a high priority when updating, renting or purchasing homes. People often tend to prioritise aesthetic interventions along with new kitchens and bathrooms. Households also tend to be strongly influenced by their social networks and the actions of friends or neighbours (Owen et al., 2014, Snape et al., 2015).

A key issue relating to the acceptance of retrofit measures, is how they fit with the occupants pre-conceived notions and habits (Walker et al., 2014). In this way certain interventions that are novel and disruptive, i.e. MVHR, may require a cognitive shift on the part of occupants; moving away from opening windows for ventilation. Many studies the cite the importance of information and bottom up initiatives a key to disseminating information in an effective way (Snape et al., 2015, Marchand et al., 2015, Elsharkawy and Rutherford, 2015). Indeed a lack of information has been regarding as a key failure of the Green Deal, with less than half of those surveyed having heard of the scheme (Marchand et al., 2015), with similar problems expressed in the CESP initiative (Elsharkawy and Rutherford, 2015).

The ‘hassle factor’ is also a key issue that is largely neglected by purely techno-economic analyses of retro fitting potential. Indeed the relative success of the FIT scheme (Finney et al., 2012) can be seen in contrast to the current uptake of RHI for heat pumps; with deployments well below DECCs estimated 4000 GSHPs and 12,000 ASHPs per annum (Snape et al., 2015). It is argued that a significant barrier to the seeming economic benefits of adopting heat pumps through RHI is the significant hassle of their installation. Further process (Green Deal assessment) and performance (heat emitter size) requirements have been added to the RHI but not included in its impact assessment (Snape et al., 2015).This often requires replacement of radiators or central heating pipework, and can be seen as major source of disruption for a household.

Many of the idealised retrofit projects, described in required the property to be vacant during the duration of the works.  In many cases this might be impractical, and is perhaps reflective of the reluctance of occupiers to ‘get the builders in’. By contrast the solar PV installations generally occurred outside and create minimal upset to the property’s internal features and the occupants.

A range of these behavioural barriers are explored by Pelenur and Cruickshank (2012), the study produced some interesting findings , particularly that household income was not a major barrier to the acceptance of retrofit measures. The research identifies how men and women perceived different barriers, with women more likely to identify internal barriers such as beliefs and family, with men more concerned about external barriers such as landlords and wider institutions; such as the council.

Owen et al. (2014) research also highlights the importance of intermediaries in the form of installers and contractors as having a key role in shaping household decision making in relation to retrofit.  They highlight how advice often stemmed from the installers’ own values, and heuristics, rather than more objective sources.


ELSHARKAWY, H. & RUTHERFORD, P. 2015. Retrofitting social housing in the UK: Home energy use and performance in a pre-Community Energy Saving Programme (CESP). Energy and Buildings, 88, 25-33.

FINNEY, K. N., SHARIFI, V. N. & SWITHENBANK, J. 2012. The negative impacts of the global economic downturn on funding decentralised energy in the UK. Energy Policy, 51, 290-300.

MARCHAND, R. D., KOH, S. C. L. & MORRIS, J. C. 2015. Delivering energy efficiency and carbon reduction schemes in England: Lessons from Green Deal Pioneer Places. Energy Policy, 84, 96-106.

OWEN, A., MITCHELL, G. & GOULDSON, A. 2014. Unseen influence—The role of low carbon retrofit advisers and installers in the adoption and use of domestic energy technology. Energy Policy, 73, 169-179.

PELENUR, M. J. & CRUICKSHANK, H. J. 2012. Closing the Energy Efficiency Gap: A study linking demographics with barriers to adopting energy efficiency measures in the home. Energy, 47, 348-357.

SNAPE, J. R., BOAIT, P. J. & RYLATT, R. M. 2015. Will domestic consumers take up the renewable heat incentive? An analysis of the barriers to heat pump adoption using agent-based modelling. Energy Policy, 85, 32-38.

WALKER, S. L., LOWERY, D. & THEOBALD, K. 2014. Low-carbon retrofits in social housing: Interaction with occupant behaviour. Energy Research & Social Science, 2, 102-114.

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