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James Parker looks at the moves housebuilding needs to make to get anywhere near the Future Homes Standard

Under pressure to make positive steps to address the climate change agenda, the Government announced a package of fairly fundamental changes to housebuilding, including an overhaul of Parts L and F of the Building Regulations (covering conservation of fuel and power, and ventilation respectively).

The moves are designed to try and bring the industry to a point where it can deliver the Future Homes Standard in 2025 – i.e. a hefty 75-80 per cent carbon reduction on a Part L 2013-compliant home.

Housebuilders are given two options within the consultation, the first of which focuses on improving building fabric only, by 21 per cent in terms of energy efficiency.

The second option is based around fabric plus bolt-ons such as PV and heat pumps, to give a 31% uplift, and the Ministry for Housing is explicitly gunning for this option to be adopted.

If we still had the Code, a lot of this effort could have been put into something else.

James Parker James Parker Editor of Housebuilder & Developer

Disappointment or step in the right direction?

The theory is that constructing new homes to this standard now will mean that they will not need to be upgraded to meet it in 2025.

As Richard Harrall, technical director at the Chartered Association of Building Engineers says in the December edition of Housebuilder & Developer magazine, “for some this won’t be enough” – the Future Homes Standard will fall short of meeting a “full zero carbon metric,” and will thus be a “disappointment.”

However it must be seen as a major step in the right direction, when current policies enable the opposite of futureproofing, and in fact lead to something more akin to ‘built-in obsolescence’ in terms of Regs compliance.

By making housebuilders approach the idea of upgrading design now to futureproof their homes against the standard, the move is in direct contrast to the current and past habit of developers building out a development slowly over time to the Building Regulations in force at the time of commencement.

This ‘transitional provision’ has led to developments being finished with homes that are not compliant, with Regs having been updated in the interim.

Ending controversy

Slightly farcically, this meant 2017-completed homes were built to 2006 standards.

The Government, should they be re-elected in a few weeks, is ending this – meaning that from 2020 any home needs to meet the relevant standards applying when it begins construction. This may be a pain for housebuilders, but is the necessary rigour to close the book on what has been a controversial issue.

Also, pulling together into one system via the new standard should help avoid the past issue of builders working on homes with various standards applying (such as the Code for Sustainable Homes), across various developments. This caused understandable confusion and completion, and, suggests Harrall, contributed to the Performance Gap.

The price of consolidating standards through the Building Regulations within the new standard is that Local Authorities now can’t legally require developments to go beyond Part L on sustainability.

We have to hope that using Regs as the mechanism produces the consistent improvements needed.

Why did we bin the Code?

Lastly, ‘fuel factors’ are being removed in the Standard Assessment Procedure, which is a further simplification of the system which has been welcomed by the industry, as they were thought to be somewhat arbitrary variables.

The focus is instead on ‘primary energy metrics,’ as a result of the grid rapidly becoming decarbonised, meaning that, says Harrall, electricity “no longer requires compensatory measures to be viable.”

Looking at all of these concerted efforts to uplift the energy efficiency of our homes however, it makes you wonder.

If we hadn’t binned the Code for Sustainable Homes, and instead made it mandatory, a lot of this central effort could perhaps have been put into something else.

James Parker is editor of Housebuilder and Developer