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What’s it like to work in retrofit at CSE? – James’ story

A black and white headshot of a man wearing a beanie
28 April 2022

Retrofit is improvement work carried out on existing buildings – particularly people’s homes – to make them more energy efficient.

Retrofit reduces the amount of energy needed to heat a building and opts to replace older energy systems with low carbon options, making retrofit the best way to reduce your emissions and your bills in the long run.

More people are realising the benefits of retrofit and are becoming more conscious of the energy they’re using. This means our CSE Futureproof retrofit assessors and coordinators are busy offering advice, visiting homes and creating bespoke surveys. Because of this, our team is growing.

One of our retrofit coordinators, James, shares the behind-the-scenes of his role.

When did you join CSE and what were you doing before this role?

I’ve been at CSE for two years in my current role. Funnily enough,in 2010 I worked here for a couple of years after completing my master’s at the Centre of Alternative Technology. Back then, my role was quite similar as I focused on the energy efficiency of buildings and renewable energy. But I looked at non-domestic buildings, which included an environmental audit of Wimbledon tennis club!

In between my CSE roles, I worked as a builder/carpenter in sustainable construction, ranging from straw bale self-builds, retrofits and Passivhaus projects. I still do this alongside my current role. I’ve always been interested in sustainable buildings and different ways to achieve this.

What does an average day look like in your job?

I started in the middle of lockdown, so I offered a lot of advice over the phone. Now, I can go out and about and usually complete one or two home surveys a week. After a survey, I use software to make a model of the home. This helps me create a unique retrofit plan with details on how the homeowner can make changes to create a more sustainable home. This includes things like behaviour changes, and the most cost-effective and impactful work needed to minimise wasted energy, e.g., insulation and recommendations for suitable renewable energy options. Hopefully, the homeowners follow their plan!

What makes it different to other roles you’ve had before?

I’ve had jobs where I’ve been at my desk all the time or on-site all the time. My current role is a perfect mix of both. I get to visit sites, and I’m also involved in retrofit best practices without getting so tired and dirty every day! After working in construction, I’d hoped to return to a consultancy type role as I like using my practical experience to help people with their projects.

This is also a really challenging role, there are so many opinions on how to do things, and every project is unique.

Why did you choose to work for CSE?

Everyone is so committed to their work for the right reasons. CSE’s work ranges from high-level research to essential front-line assistance, which feels really important. From people’s attitudes to what we achieve, it’s a special organisation to work for.

After my first job at CSE, I had a sustainability role for a big multi-disciplinary consultancy, and it was so corporate – the contrast is huge! I lasted about 3 months.

What’s your favourite thing about your role?

I travel around the South-West meeting lots of people and get to poke around their houses!

What’s your least favourite?

Unfortunately, what we recommend can be expensive, and sometimes it’s just not possible for people to carry it out. But hopefully as more people invest in renewable energy, costs will become more manageable.

Would you recommend working here to a friend?


Is there anything you would say to people applying for a retrofit role?

Be prepared for lots of learning, debate, technical challenges, compromise and (hopefully) many opportunities to improve our housing stock.

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