For many years I’ve been banging the drum for better design quality in the homes we build in Britain.
Are we building better quality homes than we were 100 years ago? Yes, of course we are, as we have better building products such as quality drainage systems, water supplies, better quality insulation, windows and glazing products, but these advances are the very least you would expect over one hundred years of house building.
There is a compelling argument to say Victorian houses had better quality proportions, higher ceiling heights, better quality brickwork and joinery details and rooms of a higher level of space standards.
For me, we should genuinely be much further ahead than where we are. We’ve made progress, but nowhere near enough progress compared to other industries, where innovation and research and development is at the forefront of everything they do.
We innovate well with individual products, such as with mechanical and electrical equipment or with glazing technology, but there are very few amazing housing developments where I see the very best of the available products come together in a single development. They do exist, but they are the rare exception rather than the rule.
In my view, ALL new build homes from today should be ZERO carbon and ZERO net energy homes
Low cost over everything
Just think about the ecological side of home design. We are nowhere near where we should be!
I still find it incredible that we are so reliant on so much oil, gas and mains electricity to power and heat our homes.
Our homes still account for nearly 30% of the nation’s total energy use! The government has set a legally binding obligation that we will cut CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050 from a 1990 baseline.
If we have any chance of meeting this target then, in my view, ALL new build homes from today should be ZERO carbon and ZERO net energy homes.
Why aren’t we doing this? Of course everyone will blame the capital cost of materials and technology that will push house prices even higher than they are and make them more unaffordable.
But seriously, are we really going to constantly put ‘Low Cost First’?
This is the 21st century! We have the knowledge and the technology (unfortunately not necessarily the skills!) to build much better homes than we are knocking up at a frightening rate today!
I had the honour of meeting my all-time hero, Sir David Attenborough, recently and I told him about my love and passion for creating homes that make us feel healthier, happier and make a positive contribution, rather than a negative contribution, to the environment.
His beautiful reply was “Why on earth don’t we do that?”.
The reason is that for as long as we put ‘Low Cost First’ then we basically put no value on the environment or our own happiness and well-being. Isn’t that a tragic position for a civilized society to be in?
To design the very best homes then we not only need brave and exciting developers to appoint talented architects, we also need a fantastic team of Building Services Engineers to make our homes function more like intelligent eco-systems, rather than dumb-boxes.
Combining beautifully designed spaces with intelligent services engineering gives us the chance of creating outstanding homes that will transform the way we live on this planet.
And we already have the technology needed but we need to bring these together in a holistic approach, so that renewable heat pumps work with power generating photovoltaics, and individual home battery storage helps charge our electric cars and regulates demand from the grid. More grey water services and better design against thermal heat gains or losses will also help these homes become beautiful, zero-impact spaces for living.
Putting engineering at the forefront of home innovation, directly alongside beautifully designed spaces gives us the chance of transforming so much about how we live in 21st century Britain.
Encouraging good practice
I was so pleased to see that the Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers recently published its Technical Memorandum (TM60) entitled ‘Good Practice in the Design of Homes’.
It promotes the full integration of building services in the design, construction and operation of high-quality homes.
Engineering cannot be an after-thought or bolted-on addition to what we do. Engineering and building services need to be an integral part of everything we do in the building industry.
Just look at the success of companies such as Apple, Dyson and Jaguar Landrover who put design quality AND engineering at the very heart of everything they do.
It is about time the home-building industry and the legislation associated with it, do the same.