Richard Darwin, Head of Capital Programmes, on Retrofitting

A cornerstone of Bricklane’s ESG strategy is our commitment to improving the energy efficiency of the UK’s housing stock. Relying on new builds alone will take 50-100 years, but retrofitting existing properties can vastly accelerate this change, improving EPC ratings while lowering emissions and residents’ energy bills.

We chatted with Richard Darwin, our Head of Capital Programmes and expert in sustainability-focused property, about Bricklane’s process for improving a property’s energy efficiency and how he spearheads this important development area. 

Can you explain your experience in the property sector?

I’ve spent my career within the built environment, predominantly within the project management field. This has seen me spend many years across building sites as a contractor-side project manager before moving to lead project teams from the client-side. 

In recent years it’s been fantastic – and long overdue – to see sustainability considerations come to the forefront. This focus has enabled me to shape project designs to deliver energy-efficiency improvements from day one.

What strategies or techniques do you use to assess a home’s energy efficiency? 

Understanding the energy efficiency of every property we buy – and how we can improve it – is a key part of our purchasing diligence at Bricklane. We’ve brought energy assessment capabilities directly into our supply chain, working closely with our assessors to develop a specialist modelling tool. This tool allows us to pinpoint the exact improvements each property needs to achieve our energy performance targets. With this, we can purchase every property with a bespoke energy efficiency scope already identified and ready for delivery upon completion.

Can you give examples of energy-efficient improvements you have made in the past? 

The nature and age of existing building stock across the UK is wonderfully mixed. That’s a big part of what makes our built environment so interesting and characterful. The variety of construction types that I’ve worked across has called for a wide range of energy-efficiency solutions; from simple loft insulation to air source heat pumps, to retrofitting flue gas heat recovery systems to combi-boilers. By designing solutions that address each property’s bespoke characteristics, we ensure we achieve the best performance.

How do you prioritise upgrades based on cost-effectiveness and potential savings for residents? 

Our modelling tool allows us to carry out a cost-benefit analysis of the improvements available for each of our properties. With this we can understand the most cost-effective route to capture energy unit savings for our occupiers, EPC points and carbon savings. This lets us prioritise improvements to achieve the best return for every pound spent, in turn allowing us to allocate funding to improve the energy efficiency of a fantastic number of homes for people to live in.

What are your top tips for people looking to make improvements to their own properties? 

Improving insulation is always a great place to start and doesn’t have to be super expensive. Loft insulation provides good value for money in terms of reducing the amount of energy that you’ll use to heat your home each year. Energy-efficient heating systems are a good next step after that, helping to reduce energy bills by getting better performance from each unit of energy.

How do you stay up to date with the latest industry advancements?

I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with some great people, and we share new and successful discoveries as they’re delivered through our works. More widely, the property sector has some excellent organisations – the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) and Better Buildings Partnership (BBP) come to mind immediately – that share updates on best practices and innovation, whilst events like CREtech are great at exhibiting emerging sustainability-focused tech solutions to keep an eye on.

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