Lucy Pedler | Director | The Green Register
At the end of last year, I made a comment in one of my TGR blogs about the demise of the Code for Sustainable Homes stating: ‘For seven years, we have had a nationally recognised, holistic standard for measuring the sustainability of new buildings and in my humble opinion, abolishing the Code for Sustainable Homes (CfSH) earlier this year has been a big mistake.’
I was lamenting the demise of the Code; although flawed, it had been the best standard for measuring the impact of the whole building, not just energy. Many local authorities had adopted the CfSH for new dwellings and any publically funded homes had to meet Code level 3 as a minimum. It also raised the game for what occupiers might expect from a home – one that was comfortable and energy efficient with lower than average fuel bills.
We have a fundamental problem in the UK that has been widely covered in the press and political campaigns in recent times-the lack of energy efficient, affordable homes (see http://england.shelter.org.uk/campaigns). Because demand far exceeds supply, we have the situation where some might purchase the equivalent of a cardboard box for a home if it were in the catchment area of the school they wish their children to go to. This was one of the reasons the government gave for withdrawing the Code – it inhibited house construction (see previous blog for reasons why this is patently not the case). But without any environmental standards to adhere to, our legally binding target to reduce carbon emissions to at least 80% from 1990 levels by 2050 will be missed by a very long shot (see http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2008/27/contents).
So there is a void to be filled by the withdrawal of the CfSH as there is precious little to ensure house builders provide energy efficient homes for all. The EPC is of minimal use as it currently stands – considered by most as an annoying requirement for buying or selling a home and fairly pointless as it does not accurately reflect the true performance of the building it is representing.
However, change is – slowly - coming in the form of minimum energy performance standards (MEPS). DECC is tackling the sometimes shocking state of rental properties by bringing into effect The Energy Act 2011 which will make it unlawful to let commercial rental properties with an EPC rating of F and G by 2018 (see DECC report). This will be followed by MEPS for domestic properties (see proposal here), making very poorly performing buildings almost valueless.
Conversely this may create a situation in the future where better performing buildings are of higher value. Looking across to the other side of the planet, buildings that are rated with one or other of Australia’s two environmental standards (NABERS and Green Star) have demonstrated that they achieve a much higher market value – for example the HQ building of The Post newspaper in Sydney.
Closer to home there is further room for optimism. The German Passivhaus standard (also known as passive house) has until very recently been perceived as a ‘nice to have’ but unlikely to be realised as it requires much more attention to detail during construction, something the UK construction industry is not known to excel in. However, the exponential growth in passivhaus certified buildings in the UK and Ireland means that costs are coming down to the point where they are competitive. For example, the Irish county of Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown’s draft count development plan proposes to make the passive house mandatory for all new buildings. So despite perceptions that building to passive house standards increases construction costs, recent evidence suggests that it might actually reduce costs (see this article) Of course, the passive house standard is concerned mainly with energy reduction but it is a very positive move in the right direction.
And then there is the new Home Quality Mark. Created by the BRE (same as CfSH) to ensure health & well being and environmental standards (same as CFSH) and is voluntary (same as CfSH was initially). Here we go again....
There is no logic behind abandoning measures to make new buildings more sustainable: it would create better living for all, reduce emissions and resource use and energise manufacture and at no extra cost to the country.
This is true of the whole green energy/renewable/sustainability argument across the economy.
It seems simple to me: we build houses that are more efficient so use less energy (ideally completely self-sufficient); use recycled materials; re-use and recycle existing materials to create less waste; ensure structure and infrastructure accommodate potential changes/improvements/upgrades in technology to give longer life; and by doing so help sustain the planet:
• The houses are perhaps worth more, so greater return for developers
• We stimulate increased innovation, design and manufacturing
• As the technology improves and more houses are built this way, costs come down
• There may even be gains in selling electricity back to the grid
• We use up fewer finite resources
• The dubious need for nuclear energy is eradicated
• We help to avoid destabilising our economy when oil runs out
• We help avoid destroying the planet
• Opportunities are created for income from licenses, joint ventures, third-party arrangements, etc.
• More comfortable and more economic houses for home-owners
• Create methods that could be exported
As this is true for private property, so it is true for commercial, public and community property. It also holds true for creating greener technologies for all our energy and resource needs.