Housebuilders, Gwyn Roberts, BREEAM, BRE
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The Spring Statement saw Chancellor Philip Hammond announce plans for a Future Homes Standard, which will mandate the end of fossil fuel heating systems in new homes by 2025. Gwyn Roberts, homes and communities lead at BRE, says UK housebuilders should take the initiative now to ensure better performance through higher quality

This year for much of the Southern Hemisphere has started with cyclones battering shores, with tropical cyclones Trevor and Veronica pummelling north and west Australia and hundreds, if not thousands, of people being killed in south-east Africa by Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Most of those living in East Africa have contributed the least to climate change, but are being impacted the most by it.

In the UK, we have the means to protect our homes from extreme flooding (even if it doesn’t always happen). While resilience is important, reducing the impact upon our climate in the first place still must be a priority.

The UK’s 29m homes account for around 14% of the UK’s total emissions, which actually increased between 2016 and 2017. While our new homes are a small proportion of all homes, they offer the best opportunity to make an impact. As one civil servant recently put it to me, housebuilders have now had their breathing space on energy efficiency and it’s now time to start pushing things forward.

But things need to be different than a decade ago when the 2016 Zero Carbon Homes trajectory and Code for Sustainable Homes were high on the agenda. Key to it in my mind is ensuring we take householders, the ultimate consumers, with us on the journey.

The carrot needs to be stronger than the stick for housebuilders, this will mean that they will want to deliver low energy homes. Creating that market drive for these types of homes will ultimately mean they are more likely to perform as designed. In order to do this, we always need to think about environment, health and social wellbeing and economics combined, otherwise we will get unintended consequences.

Which brings me on to the Future Homes Standard, which the Chancellor announced in his Spring Statement. Sounds good, doesn’t it? It has created a fair amount of speculation and debate – which no doubt is the point.

To consumers, a Future Homes Standard sounds far more exciting and sexy than “an update in Part L of the Building Regulations”, which from what I am hearing is broadly what it is. This isn’t the “son-of-Code”.

But if you were sold a home that was built to a Future Homes Standard, would you expect it just to be about carbon emissions and only those associated with your heating and hot water? With 99% of customers now reporting snags with their new home, basic quality is likely to be high on the agenda in most people’s minds. I think people would hope that the future will hold less hassle, with the basics covered.

Quality is of key importance. Without it, consumers will not accept new homes, either to live in or have them built in their local area. If the poor quality is not just superficial but is also more fundamental then it probably means that the home is not performing as designed. The Committee on Climate Change highlights “performance and compliance” as their number one area that needs action to ensure housing is fit for the future.

Ensuring performance through good quality is also good for housebuilders. As we move to a world where homes are built in a global, digital manner, our UK housebuilders are going to have to compete on the global scale. This won’t just be on cost, but also performance and quality.

At the Innovation Park at BRE, we already have a factory-built homemade in China. It isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that we will see a housing development made in China on UK land in the not too distant future. If indigenous developers do not build to a good enough standard then they won’t be able to compete. Landowners, local communities, clients, specifiers and financiers will start to look elsewhere or to others to provide solutions.

We need to ensure that UK PLC is on the front foot with this. As well as winning work, a respected, highly regarded housebuilding sector is one where a diverse group of people will want to work. Skills and getting the right people to work in the sector remains a challenge.

Looking at the data from various sources, 2019 looks to be a hard start for housebuilding with fewer registrations and a lower value in the sector. At times when the market becomes more difficult, often the key to finding our way out is to encourage differentiation – what is your edge?

Carbon reduction, climate change and energy efficiency may also not be the best terms to use for all consumers. Our consumer research shows that while they care about these issues, consumers may not always be the main driver in decision-making. Quite often, it is possible to make technical changes that have other positive outcomes – moving away from gas and fossil fuels is not only good for carbon reduction but also for our health and wellbeing by improving our air quality. Incidentally, air quality is the theme of World Environment Day on 5 June. Within the home, gas hobs are a key contributor to poor indoor air quality.

Consumers seem to prefer changes that have health and economic benefits; betterment to our environment being perceived as an added benefit. For decades, BRE has been collecting data and providing analysis on the links between housing and health. Talking with the NHS and Public Health England, it is clear that the government understands the need to join up health, environment and economic benefits of building to higher standards.

The year 2025 (when the Chancellor has said he wants the Future Homes Standard implemented) is still some time away (an evening is quite a long time in politics at the moment…) but we see no reason to not start moving things forward today.

Government should encourage housebuilders, financiers, planners and other specifiers to use impactful standards such as BREEAM, the Home Quality Mark, Passivhaus, Energiesprong now then follow-up with regulation later. We must always remember that regulation is the minimum – not the target. Let us start building Future Homes now.

 

 

Gwyn Roberts

Homes & Communities Lead

BRE

Tel: +44 (0)333 321 8811

www.bregroup.com

Twitter: bre_group

LinkedIn: building-research-establishment-bre

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