Max Halliwell asks if the only way to achieve the decent, sustainable homes that the nation is desperate for, is legislation?

We have just finished exhibiting at the UK Construction Week exhibition at the NEC and had a lot of interest  in our Ecodan Ultra Quiet heat pump.

The show was much busier than last year because more UK homeowners are realising that we can’t just keep ‘burning stuff’, and high carbon fossil fuels such as gas can no longer be the automatic choice for domestic heating.  (ref government plan to ban from 2025 in new build)

According to polling by YouGov, climate change has risen to one of the top three most important issues facing the country, behind Brexit and the NHS.

So consumers understand the impact that modern lifestyles have on our planet and, judging by the show at the NEC, there is a lot of concern out there.

At the same time, the grid is getting greener with production of energy from renewables overtaking fossil fuel for the first time.

Whilst this increasing interest in renewable, low-carbon heating is to be welcomed, we will never reach the ambitious carbon reduction targets by relying on individual ‘green-minded’ consumers to decarbonise their own home, one by one.

It is not happening fast enough

Max Halliwell NEW Max Halliwell Communications Manager for Heating and Ventilation

Legislate to bring about change

A lot of talk at the show focused on the latest report by the Sustainable Energy Association (SEA) , which states that legislation is needed if we are to get anywhere near building the sustainable homes the country needs.

The SEA are calling on the government to legislate the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) Band C target; raising all homes to EPC Band C by 2035 and starting with social housing by 2030.

In fact a lot of the report focuses on the example set by social housing, which has already done much to tackle oil and coal heating, calling for a clear deadline on ending the use fossil fuel heating systems, as well as calling for specific government funding to upgrading homes and increase energy efficiency – with the introduction of a new improved 'Decent Homes Standard' for social housing.

Social housing leading the way

The social housing sector in the UK already understands the importance of reducing emissions from heating, which has resulted in the widespread adoption of renewable technologies to replace coal and oil heating in off-gas areas.

Not only does this help combat fuel poverty and deliver better, more sustainable heating for tenants, it also reduces the carbon footprint of the landlord.

The introduction of renewable heating should also be accompanied by improvements to the overall thermal efficiency of the property, increasing the performance of the heating and delivering lower bills and more comfort for tenants.

The challenge now for this sector – and for the UK as a whole, is to tackle the homes still reliant on high carbon fuel s and this is where the SEA report is calling on government to set a clear deadline on ending the use fossil fuel heating systems and implement the ‘Future Homes Standard’ as soon as possible.

What about housebuilding?

The report also calls on government to increase monitoring of new build homes to close the performance gap between the design and as-built performance of a home.

Many smaller housebuilders are embracing renewable technologies and sustainable construction and even some of the larger players are heading in this direction.

But it is not happening fast enough and we need to find a way to encourage house building to meet the chronic shortage AND do so in a way that encourages the use of renewables, rather than always going back to gas.

Queen’s speech

So what is the Government’s plan?

Last week, we saw the opening of Parliament and the pomp and ceremony of a Queen’s Speech in the UK, where the government of the day sets out its agenda for the country.

So what did the speech have to say about the environment and housing?

Whilst plastic waste (environment) and safety standards post-Grenfell (housing) do appear in the speech, there is little else at this point that suggests we are going to see legislation to tackle the desperate need to build more homes, quicker, and ensure they are on the way to zero carbon.

Even the tabloid newspaper the Sun, normally supportive of the conservative government was critical of the Queen’s Speech, judging that there was ‘room for improvement’ and criticising the Prime Minister for leaving house building out of the speech all together.

Where to now?

Cynics are suggesting that this particular Queen’s Speech is little more than electioneering and it is even unsure if Parliament will approve the Speech.

So it could be that we soon see another Speech in the not too distant future – beyond ‘Brexit’ and beyond another general election.

Let’s hope that the two challenges of the housing shortage and the need to decarbonise heating are given the urgent priority they deserve.

In addition to being a challenge though, we mustn’t forget that they are also fantastic opportunities for us to provide decent homes for people, using sustainable building and heating technologies.

These are all ready, right now.

We just need the sticks and carrots to make people use them.

Max Halliwell is communications manager for Heating and Ventilation