Retrofit to the Rescue

08 March 2019

Environmental upgrading of multi-storey estates

Wilmcote House Project Transformation

A new study by the LSE on the social impact of a major energy efficiency upgrade to Wilmcote House, a social housing block in Portsmouth.  

Wilmcote House in Portsmouth is the one of the most ambitious refurbishments of its kind. It is the largest social housing block to have been refurbished to the highly ambitious EnerPHit standard, the retrofit equivalent of Passivhaus, with residents in situ. 

Built in 1968, the building was heated by old, inefficient and expensive electric storage heaters with residents typically on key meters.  Many residents were experiencing fuel poverty, under-heating their homes well below World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations. 

Portsmouth City Council decided to refurbish the block. This involved the super-insulation of Wilmcote House using ROCKWOOL products, roof replacement, installation of triple glazed windows, extension of the living areas, and more 

ROCKWOOL UK commissioned the LSE to undertake a study of the social impact of the works, which have now been published in Retrofit to the Rescue.  Key findings of the research include:

  • The refurbishment has resulted in a marked improvement in the quality of life for residents, with improved thermal performance of the flats alongside better interior design and exterior appearance. 
  • At the outset, all interviewees had high expectations; their bills would go down, their homes would be warmer and the block would look nicer. Despite delays, all three expectations have been met.
  • Portsmouth City Council has a good reputation with tenants and undertook meaningful engagement with the tenants throughout the retrofit process. The final design of the flats benefitted from resident feedback, which resulted in changes to the design of the kitchen and living room. 
  • The overall cost of the scheme was cheaper and less disruptive than the alternative of demolition and rebuilding. 

Alongside the LSE study, the University of Southampton has been monitoring the thermal performance of the flats.  The results emerging from this research are extremely encouraging. 

They found that during the extremely low temperatures of winter of 2017-18, known as ‘The Beast from the East’, over 60% of the residents interviewed used their heating system less than once a month and nearly 40% never used their heating at all. Despite this, internal temperatures in virtually all flats remained well above WHO thresholds for human comfort.

Thermal upgrades to housing often result in either warmer, healthier living conditions or energy savings, but not both. The ambitious EnerPHiT standard pursued in the upgrade of Wilmcote House has enabled residents both to heat their homes to healthy levels whilst also delivering reductions in energy usage and thereby provides a successful model for how to fuel poverty and carbon reduction targets. 

The Wilmcote House 'Retrofit to the Rescue' report can be downloaded here.

ROCKWOOL and LSE have previously worked together on a study of the social impact of the regeneration of the Edward Woods Estate in West London which resulted in two publications, High Rise Hope and High Rise Hope Revisited