National Empty Homes Week 2022 Case Study full house retrofit of hard to treat properties

Derbyshire Dales District Council

Harrison Almshouses, Matlock full house retrofit of hard to treat heritage properties

This project involved the sympathetic whole house retrofit of 6 Almshouses constructed in the 1890s.

Poorly insulated homes built before 1919 are over-represented amongst England's empty homes and can become homes of last resort for low income residents who find them expensive to heat comfiortably.

So there is considerable read-across from this exemplar project, to the retrofit challenge of reaching NetZero for England's housing and to the priorities of returning such homes to use as comfortable, warm, affordable homes during Empty Homes Week 2022.

Project summary:

The properties were rated EPC F/G before the program of renovations were undertaken with residents struggling to keep their homes warm and trustees unable to meet the rising costs of improvement works. The EPCs on the completed properties have improved to B, with an estimated CO2e annual saving of 6t per property and significant reduction in fuel bills.

A fabric-first approach was taken with new insulated floors, internal wall insulation, triple glazing, loft insulation installed as well as new heating controls and 36 solar panels. The works were undertaken by local contractors and were part of a full renovation programme funded by the Council.

For a short video about the project see:


A district-wide stock condition survey in 2019 identified that 34.1% of homes in the Derbyshire Dales were built before 1918 and that 8.9% of our residents were living in fuel poverty. The district is largely rural with a rich housing stock, several conservation areas and is, in part, a National Park.

The Council was already engaged in trying to reduce fuel poverty and emissions in some areas of the district, targeting some of the easier to treat non-traditional and solid brick built properties through external wall insulation schemes.

However, we knew that we needed to develop our experience in tacking the challenge of the 'hard to treat' properties - building an understanding of our local capability and capacity for retrofit.

The idea for the project stemmed from a conversation between our Director of Housing and the trustees of the Almshouses around their ongoing issues in maintaining the properties to a high standard, while continuing to provide affordable accommodation for their tenants. They had been taking a piece meal approach to renovations, as and when they were able to fund the works but were keen to support a whole house approach. Seeing an opportunity to provide specific support to the trustees and residents, to stimulate our local 'green economy' and to develop experience the project was developed.

Support of the Council was vital in engaging a local trusted delivery partner who acted as project manager. It was vital that the project was approached sympathetically – this kind of work is invasive and messy.

Buy-in from residents was key, particularly considering the vulnerable nature of some of the tenants. Selecting the right delivery partner meant that this aspect of the project worked well, and met our expectations. Clear and open communication between the project manager, the trustees and the Council meant that all stakeholders were engaged throughout the process, with the residents being consulted about the scheme as it progressed. A next stage beyond the improvements of the building will see the outdoor space upgraded, with proposals included shared growing space, outdoor drying areas and planting to provide a gain in biodiversity.

A fabric first whole house approach was taken to the retrofit, with the project manager providing a coherent bespoke well designed approach. The technical specifications were developed in consultation with the Council so that we could ensure we met the specific needs of the residents as well as ensuring we maximised the opportunities to improve the energy efficiency and reduce the emissions of the properties.

The scheme of works included installation of internal wall insulation, insulated floors, triple glazed windows and doors (offering a co-benefit of noise reduction), loft insulation, LEDs including new motion-sensitive outdoor lighting, new radiators, heating controls and solar panels to reduce electricity consumption. Additional renovation works included new kitchens, walk-in showers and new electrical installations providing fit for purpose modern accommodation.

During install:


Finished interiors: 


The properties were previously rated EPC F or G. Post-install EPCs rated them as B, representing a CO2e saving of 6t per property as well as a significant reduction in energy consumption for the residents – this was a key aim of the project considering the tenure of the properties and the nature of the residents. Working with the trustees we continue to monitor the impact of the project in terms of energy consumption and resident feedback.

Utilising a local project manager ensured we could engage with local firms - providing not only employment but also opportunities for the development of skills and an understanding of the skills required for this type of work.

The project is a real life exemplar of what can be done to tackle energy inefficiency, emissions and fuel poverty in hard to treat properties where methods such as external wall insulation are not appropriate. The Council is has shared the learnings from the project with the LAEP and at a recent LEP Regional COP26 conference. 

Beyond this project the Council is now in discussion with the trustees of 3 other local Almhouses trusts in the district. We will use the learnings from this project and the skills developed, both in project management and delivery to improve future projects.