You might feel overwhelmed as you start your retrofit journey. Where to begin? There are so many options available and factors to consider.
We always recommend the first step should be writing a short ‘Retrofit Project Brief’. This is simply a list of what you’re trying to achieve and why, your budget and time scales.
Write this plan with other people in your home and bear in mind that it’s a living document and should be updated as your project progresses.
You can use this Retrofit Project Brief to communicate your ambitions and expectations to your retrofit team. It keeps things focused on what you want to achieve. People also tell us the brief is a handy way to build a shared agreement within your household on what you are trying to do and why.
Click here to download a template to use when creating your own Retrofit Project Brief.
What should you include in your Retrofit Project Brief?
There are some key factors to consider:
Your motivations: why do you want to retrofit your home? What are your priorities?
Time scales: Will you do it all in one go or in stages? What’s your deadline?
Budgets: How will you fund the project?
Think hard about why you want to want to retrofit your home. Maybe you’re keen for it to be warmer and more comfortable. You might want to modernise the way it looks. Or perhaps a family member has health problems made worse by damp or cold temperatures. One motivation might be to save money on energy bills or tackling climate change could be your driver.
Be clear and honest about your priorities in your Retrofit Project Brief and explain what matters to you most. This will help to prioritise your project as it develops.
Decide what’s important to you in the retrofit process. This will help the professionals supporting you – from project managers to contractors – to focus their efforts in line with your goals and values.
Cost, quality or time?
All building projects face three main constraints: cost, quality and time. You can never have all three being perfect at the same time. So, think about what’s important to you. Pick the two constraints that matter most to your household (and one of them should be quality). In retrofit, quality is vital to make sure your home performs well at the end. Your project can either be delivered quickly but at a higher cost or more slowly, at a lower cost.
Some people are only comfortable using certain products and resources in their retrofit. Other householders are happy to be guided by the professionals supporting them. Think carefully about this as you write your Retrofit Project Brief.
For instance, if you are vegan, you may not want sheep’s wool insulation to be installed. Or perhaps you have health concerns and want to avoid retrofit materials that use petrochemicals. Maybe you object to products that have been manufactured via high-carbon industrial processes or you are keen to use low maintenance materials. Or maybe your goal is to use resources that achieve the very highest energy performance.
Be clear and frank about your priorities and the retrofit process will be shaped around these preferences. Every home is different, and every householder is different. Think carefully about the sort of person you are and what really matters to you.
It’s also important to listen to your advisors here. Once you have set out your personal priorities, your retrofit advisor or consultant can put forward an evidence-based approach that will help to clarify - and, at times, to challenge - your thinking.
If you have a fixed pot and you can’t go a penny over, then be clear about this from the start. The nature of building work is that budgets can run over so it’s worth including a contingency as part of your maximum budget.
Points to consider:
What does a whole house retrofit cost? Be realistic, now is not the time for wishful thinking!
DIY route: if you have more time and don’t mind getting dirty you might want to take on some of the work yourself
Grant funding: there are occasionally grant funds available but they may come with strings and timescale attached
Contingencies in budget: it’s worth putting money aside for the unexpected, at least 10% of your budget, but on a more complicated house or where there is greater uncertainty due to areas you can’t see before you start, perhaps as much as 25%.
Contingencies in scope of works: it may be worth segmenting and prioritising the work into packages, the things that are essential and the things to go for should you still have funds available.
Some people do all their retrofit works in one go. Others break it up by doing something every year or whenever they can afford to make improvements. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each way?
The case for a multi-phase retrofit
Breaking your retrofit up into chunks can be more manageable in terms of cost but also risk. If things go wrong when you’re doing one element of the process it won’t have such an impact compared to a problem with a single-phase retrofit where the entire home could be affected.
Disruption is another factor. If you are retrofitting your home in one go then it might prove too disruptive. Phasing it helps to manage the disruption.
The headspace issue is also worth considering. Do you have the time to think about everything that’s involved in a single-phase retrofit? Some people like to stage the process so they can consider different issues at different points and don’t feel too overwhelmed.
Architect Harry Paticas has done a deep retrofit of his home in different stages. Read more about how he used a step-by-step approach here.
The case for a single-phase retrofit
Doing you works in one go might prove to be cheaper. For instance, you aren’t paying to scaffold your house several times over a number of years as with a multi-phase approach.
It’s harder to achieve a very deep retrofit if you do it in stages. A lot of careful forward planning is needed to ensure everything is joined up and you don’t do anything that needs undoing in years to come. Those junctions between different phases in a staged retrofit need extra thought.
Although the disruption of a single-phase retrofit is acute at the time, once it’s done, it’s done. A staged retrofit will disturb the home year after year – or however often you plan to do the works.
Retrofit can be disruptive and it’s important to be honest with yourself. What can your household cope with? How will you live when the work is being carried out? Will you move out or will you de-camp to certain rooms? Planning is crucial to make the process as smooth as possible.
What to expect
Making arrangements for contractors to get access to your home, including power and washing and toilet facilities
Lots of dust associated with certain jobs such as internal wall insulation
Builders coming in and out of your house, doors and windows needing to be open
The need to store materials in gardens, garages and sheds
How to handle it
Discuss arrangements with contractors, share your concerns but be aware of their needs in getting the work done
Think carefully about what will happen when and be prepared for disruption
Consider moving out for a week or two at the most disruptive times
Plan for a clean-up phase and think about bringing in contract cleaners
Linking with other home improvements
Often, people consider energy efficiency works at the same time as they are planning an extension, converting a loft or re-doing a kitchen or bathroom. It’s important to view retrofit as part of this process and not a piece of work that’s isolated from other home improvements. For the best result, retrofit should be integrated into the overall plan – to minimise disruption and cost and to increase energy performance and the aesthetic look. This involves organising ahead and thinking about retrofit as you begin planning any other home building or maintenance.
Before and after shots of a kitchen remodelling, carried out as part of a retrofit project.