“The biggest role for the installer is to be trustworthy and have high standards.” – George Clarke 

Branded ‘one of the biggest climate challenges facing our generation’, the spotlight is very much on retrofitting this year and how the industry can be scaled to the point that it can deliver the required sustainable upgrades to more than 27 million UK homes. 

George Clarke and Linda Ram at Solar and Storage Live 2023

Billions of pounds are being invested by the government in the form of various decarbonisation grants, but major challenges remain in terms of skills, standards, cost and long- term policy. 

Next month will, therefore, see the introduction of the first ever National Retrofit Conference which will take place alongside Futurebuild at ExCeL London from March 5 to 7. The event is being curated by The Retrofit Academy, with key partners including the National Home Decarbonisation Group and the National Retrofit Hub. 

In its event promotion, Futurebuild described this as being a ‘watershed moment’ in tackling retrofitting, which it sees as one of the biggest climate challenges facing our generation and therefore warranting its own conference within a conference, rather than a seminar presence only. 

It was also a hot topic at the October Solar and Storage Show, where we were able to spend some time talking to well-known architect, TV presenter, campaigner and educator, George Clarke. 

Consumer protection 

You might recognise him from programmes such as George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces, Restoration Man, Old House New Home and Build a New Life in the Country but, when he’s not on TV, George is busy advocating for high standards and consumer protection in the home improvement industry. 

For a number of years, George has been a brand ambassador for HIES – the consumer protection organisation covering the installation of renewable energy and home energy efficiency products. 

He is working with HIES to ‘ensure that consumers are respected, protected and educated on their home improvement journey’. 

The whole issue of consumer protection was high on the agenda at the Solar and Storage Show as being absolutely integral to the success of the renewable energy transition. 

Regardless of wider industry and political challenges, the transition ultimately relies on buy in from the individual homeowner (in the absence of political mandates). 

The retrofit challenge 

George said: “Generally we are doing great on the journey to renewable, but the biggest challenge I see is the retrofit market. It’s something I am constantly pushing for, campaigning on and talking about. It’s not easy at all, especially amid the cost-of-living crisis when people are struggling. 

“Buildings also need to be fabric first. There’s no point investing in green tech if a house doesn’t have decent insulation, draft exclusion, double glazed windows and so on.” 

Education and trust 

“Education is the most important thing ever. Once people are educated and aware, it’s about having trust in the industry. I’m thinking about who do I talk to, who do I trust from a consumer point of view? That choice could be difficult and confusing. 

“I knew I wanted to be an architect from quite a young age. I liked getting to know products and analysing my parents’ council house. I remember really well when my parents wanted to get double glazing, probably in the mid to late 1980s. A guy came round, and he was totally charming and had the gift of the gab. 

“He said he would call his boss to try and get a bigger discount – he probably didn’t even call him –and when he came back there was another £500 knocked off. I urged my dad not to go ahead, I didn’t trust him at all.” 

The role of the installer 

We asked George how the installer fits into the equation and what part they can play in terms of the consumer experience. 

He replied: “The biggest role for the installer is to be trustworthy and have high standards. You’ve got to care about your client. I’ve been in the building industry since I was a kid, and you can tell the contractors who really care. I was a building contractor, and we would always tell customers, if there’s an issue, we will put it right, or help to, and that they should always just call us, no matter what. 

“That was always our mantra. If there was a problem, we would either take responsibility, or try to help if it was related to product or something else. 

“And that leads to more work too. One of the biggest reasons people will get work done on their home is through recommendation from family and friends. If you go to someone’s house and they’ve had their windows done and they tell you the person who installed them is brilliant, you’ll ask for their details straightaway. It’s unbelievably important. 

“Being a member of a consumer code like HIES is one of the ways installers can demonstrate that they care and want to build trust and respect high standards.” 

Snowball effect 

That personal recommendation was also found to be one of the main influencing factors over whether someone was willing to adopt low carbon heating in their home, in the UK Energy Research Centre’s latest domestic heat survey. 

 Exploring attitudes towards low carbon heating technologies, a key finding of the survey was that ‘having as little as one friend using a low carbon heating system significantly increases a person’s willingness to adopt it themselves’. It is felt, therefore, that any increase in uptake of domestic renewable energy solutions might ‘facilitate a snowball effect, multiplying public engagement and support’. 

So, there’s definitely food for thought for installers in terms of the importance of those individual relationships with customers and how their positive experiences can be leveraged to attract more work, perhaps through the medium of case studies and testimonials, as well the word of mouth that will happen naturally. 

George concluded: “I am genuinely passionate about consumer protection. Especially with new tech, people want to know they are not being ripped off and that they are getting a high- quality product that is properly installed.”