BRANCH LEAD STORY Cheltenham ENVIRONMENT HEALTH Health and Wellbeing Housing

Is retrofitting the way to go when it comes to helping stop climate change?

With the climate crisis still ongoing, many people and businesses are thinking about ways they can help to reverse it. Global Footsteps is an ‘educational charity which links grassroots communities around the world ‘. Based in Cheltenham, the group has played its part and had retrofitting carried out.

Global Footsteps trustee, Alison Crane, discussed the whole process with Branch, and told us all about the various other steps the charity has taken to help improve our planet.

– Why did you carry out retrofitting?

“[Our] building was in poor condition, so we wanted to improve it with sustainability and energy efficiency in mind, and to show what can be done in an older building, typical of many in Cheltenham.”

– What did the retrofitting involve?

Energy efficiency works best when all elements are tackled – i.e. insulation and heating. Insulation is the most important, so that heat loss is reduced. The walls were insulated externally on the sides and back, and internally on the front so the appearance wasn’t changed. Windows were changed to single glazed sliding sash windows, in keeping with the building style, but with double glazed secondary glazing added. [The roof was] replaced with a well-insulated flat roof, which made space for renewable technologies – heating supplied by an air source heat pump, solar PV panels generating electricity, and solar thermal, heating the water.

The air source heat pump provides central heating using renewable energy, extracting heat from the air. It provides underfloor heating, with controls in each room.

– Was the process expensive?

Yes, but many of the elements (e.g. roof, windows) needed attention in any case. We also received a couple of grants that we were able to apply for at the time. We calculated that the money spent would “pay for itself” over time, as the building is so energy efficient – i.e. our heating bills would be reduced, because of using renewable technologies and with little heat loss through the walls and roof.

The solar power panel, showing how much energy is being saved.

– What do you think are the reasons for others not retrofitting too?

It is expensive and disruptive. It should be done, as we did, when a building is being refurbished in any case, so the additional cost is relatively low. However, this is not widely understood. Building owners often just go for the cheapest quote, with just basic insulation, and builders are wary of quoting for a higher standard because they think they won’t be offered the work. Quotes for work that include running costs would help. The government could do more to encourage retrofitting, through regulations and incentives.

Max Wilkinson, Cheltenham Borough Council member for climate and communities, met with the volunteers at Global Footsteps.

– What other steps has Global Footsteps taken to help the climate?

The FoodLoose zero waste shop operates from our building, and was set up as a project of the charity, although it is now independent. The products it sells are sustainably sourced, with reduced impact on the climate (e.g. organically, not intensively farmed), and not wrapped in plastic, therefore reducing plastic pollution and production.

We believe in climate justice – helping communities that have contributed the least to climate chaos, but are already suffering from its effects. We work with a women’s self-help group in Kenya on projects that help the climate. Global Footsteps is raising money for a new climate adaptation project so they can grow crops more resilient to the changing climate.

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