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Paul Groves looks at research showing builders are way off course for hitting net zero

Back during the summer heatwave, two Prime Ministers ago and prior to countless Cabinet reshuffles and resignations, the Government ushered in a series of significant changes to building regulations.

The alterations were a vital part of a long-term plan (remember them?) that the Government under former PM Boris Johnson had initiated to cut carbon emissions.

The sweeping changes for the construction industry were introduced ahead of the Future Homes and Building Standard.

The new Standard, not due to come into full effect until 2025, has the lofty ambition to dramatically reduce carbon emissions in new homes by 75-80% on current levels.

New homes built by both private and public developers will need to meet far more stringent and demanding standards.

Inevitably this will lead to cost implications for developers and also homeowners themselves as the new Standard will also extend to refurbishment and retrofit projects, extensions or renovations involving thermal upgrades.

The research suggests suppliers of heat pumps and window replacements units will benefit

Paul Groves Paul Groves Editor of Specification

No plans and no skills

However, with the industry committed to the Net Zero challenge and with the timescale for switching to the new Standard regarded as long enough for the industry to adapt, the Standard garnered widespread support.

The industry swung into action, creating working groups and recommendations designed to help developers to work quickly and efficiently to prepare for the major changes they will face.

According to new research though, the housing industry currently believes it is unlikely to meet the requirements set out in the government’s 2025 framework.

According to the study carried out by members of The Housing Forum’s Futures Network, One out of five say that their own organisation does not have a plan in place that will enable them to deliver homes that will meet 2025 emissions targets.

The Housing Forum consists of more than 150 organisations, from both the public and private sectors, representing the entire housing supply chain.

Members represent £24bn turnover in the housing sector.

The research was carried out among senior industry figures attending a number of The Housing Forum’s 2022 events including a series of Decarbonisation Seminars.

A total of 91% of the respondents were directly involved in ensuring their organisations meet decarbonisation targets.

Three out of four of those questioned think the industry does not have adequate skills and knowledge to meet 2025 targets within the next 10 years.

No understanding of technologies

Prior to the 2022 changes coming into force The Federation of Master Builders had stated that less than half of their members were ready for the new regulations.

Daniel Love, from Polypipe Building Products - a member of The Housing Forum’s Futures Network - who carried out the research said: “We were alarmed to see that so many senior figures do not think that the industry will meet the net zero challenge within the Government’s time frame.

“The results of the survey also show a fundamental lack of understanding of the technologies that developers can adopt to meet their targets. There also seems to be a lack of urgency to increase that understanding and to begin preparations in earnest.

“Developers need to engage with their supply chain to understand the new technologies and construction methods before the 2025 deadline in order for demand for new products and skills to be ready in time.

“The answer has to be an emphasis on engagement, upskilling and education.”

Work brought forward

And yet another curious effect of the building regulations changes has been the significant influence on workloads in various sectors – particularly new private housing – over coming years.

Already, there are signs that developers have brought forward the start of some new schemes this spring to avoid some of the new regulations which came into force in June.

In the medium term, contractors working in the housing renovation and refurbishment sectors should see stronger demand for their services as clients are obliged to meet more exacting standards, according to research from industry analysts Glenigan.

The research from Glenigan suggests suppliers of energy efficient building insulation materials and products - particularly for products such as heat pumps and window replacements units - will stand to benefit.

According to Allan Wilen, economics director at Glenigan, “This marks a major change as it means businesses are looking at a broader environmental platform. By moving energy efficiency up the agenda, it will help to reduce their footprint and will have a direct benefit on costs and on the bottom line.”

Social Housing embraces heat pumps

The first sector where the new Standard appears to be having an impact on tendering arrangements is social housing work for councils and housing associations.

Glenigan data shows some significant new frameworks currently being let are including features such as ground and air sourced heat pumps and solar panels which will become part of the new Standard.

For example, a £1 billion renewables servicing & maintenance framework for Hastoe Housing Association in Kingston-on-Thames - where applications to tender are currently invited - involves firms providing various services which will be commonplace under the new Standard.

In this case they include - servicing and safety inspections of air source heat pumps, ground source heat pumps, unvented hot water cylinders, solar thermal panels, rainwater harvesting systems and mechanical ventilation with heat recovery. The framework starts next spring and runs for eight years.

Opportunity knocks

Social housing frameworks also appear to be being designed to anticipate the new Standard.

Work on energy efficiency for social housing linked to the new Standard - on both new and renovation schemes - should provide a useful support to the pipeline of work in the sector over coming years.

For private housebuilders, the new Part L of the Building Regulations introduced in July ahead of the full Standard means new homes in England now need to produce around 30% less carbon emissions.

And there is evidence that some housebuilders brought forward the start of work on site ahead of the introduction of the new regulations.

Opportunity is knocking for the housing industry as regards the new Standard.

But so far it seems not everyone is prepared to answer the challenge.

Paul Groves is editor of Specification magazine