The Countdown Begins: Preparing New Homes to be ‘Zero Carbon Ready’ in Five Years’ Time

The Countdown Begins: Preparing New Homes to be ‘Zero Carbon Ready’ in Five Years’ Time

For many years now, the UK has been preparing itself for an uphill battle against its own carbon footprint. From the individual household and the solitary car on the morning commute, to the transport, agricultural and manufacturing sectors, the country’s way of life has proven itself untenable as we struggle to steer ourselves away from a future of devastation, and every area of existence as we know it seems to represent a significant contributing factor.

Reform can – and, more importantly, is – taking place on a long and complex spectrum. On the level of the individual, many of us are now demonstrating a remarkable propensity for change; small habits which were once so firmly ingrained within our day to day routines have changed, the demand for EVs or hybrids is rising, and an increasing number of us our taking a genuine interest in minimising the carbon footprint left behind by the food we buy, or the single-use products of which we choose to make use.

Still, the same reservations that may have slowed our uptake of these greener habits remains: there is only so much that we, as individuals, can do to slow the release of carbon into the atmosphere, and ensure a healthier and safer future for the country. While we know that this cannot be used as an excuse to shirk the habits that we know to be more sustainable, it is difficult to feel any significant change in our outlook for the future when the vast majority of improvements we see on a daily basis seem small, trivial and, for the most part, inconsequential.

For this reason, new goals set by the UK Government’s update to the Future Homes Standard represents a momentous turning point for the domestic initiative, and ensure that the coming years see a widespread boost to our efforts against climate change. Read more below.

How Are UK Homes Contributing to Climate Change?

According to the most recent statistics, the UK’s domestic sector, at-home energy usage comprises around 14% of the country’s emissions of greenhouse gases. This represents a substantial portion of our carbon footprint, and a harsh blow to our fight for carbon neutrality, given the cruciality of domestic energy. In essence, it is not something that can simply ‘go away’, although we stand little hope of reversing the impact of climate change if it continues on in this state for much longer.

For the average homebuyer, it can feel as though their hands are tied. Given the current economic landscape, avoiding single-use plastic bags and replacing short drives with slightly longer walks is, for many, the sum total of what will be possible for the foreseeable future. A home that is not equipped for a safer, cleaner and healthier future almost seems to nullify those efforts, although there is very little the buyer can do – they are restricted to what is available, in whatever state.

What is necessary, then, is a new standard by which homes are built. Over the years, this new standard can come to replace the old builds designed with no thought spared for the UK’s upcoming fight against climate change.

This is exactly what the government’s Future Homes Standard seeks to accomplish, and new revisions offer a ray of hope for homebuyers.

What is the New Standard Going to be?

The government has stipulated a number of requirements for all new builds in 2021, and beyond.

Most notably, and coming into effect this year, the limit for maximum carbon emissions of all new builds is now 31% lower. This is a noteworthy decrease – the impact of which will be of benefit to the UK’s overall carbon emissions though, given the fact that 25 million homes are currently standing across the country, it will prove barely significant on its own.

It is, however, an entry point for a far more significant target – one for which the deadline is already looming on the horizon. Within the Future Homes Standard update, the government has stipulated that all new homes must be prepared for net zero carbon emissions by 2025. 

That’s not to say, of course, that homes built in 2025 will feature a non-existent carbon footprint – a large part of the onus lies with the energy supplier, for instance, and your ability to power your home with clean and renewable energy. The government has stated that an emissions reduction of 75-80% will ensure that new homes are prepared for a net zero future, which means that a 100% reduction is still not necessary for builders to achieve. What the update does ensure, however, is that the UK will be able to boast a new wave of homes for which embracing a net zero future will prove entirely feasible.

Home buyers – in particular, those just entering onto the property ladder – will be able to take advantage of an unprecedented level of reassurance from developers, and no longer limited in their ability to join in the movement toward a greener future.

How Are Builders Going to Achieve This? 

As it stands, there have been no stipulations for a single, ‘biscuit cutter’ approach to creating homes with the potential for net zero carbon emissions, which means that homes will differ in the methodologies and technologies developers choose to deploy in order to ensure carbon neutrality.

The coming years will prove a trying time for developers, who will need to rapidly update their approach in order to ensure compliance and, of course, to demonstrate their superiority to a generation of homebuyers who are growing increasingly sensitive to the need to invest their money only into products and services which will prove to be sustainable in the long run.

What Technologies are Expected to Prove Most Popular?

Already, however, there is plenty of speculation on all sides that many will choose to adopt solar systems, which will give rise to a new generation of family homes that can operate independently from many energy suppliers’ reliance on fossil fuels, minimise their carbon footprints, and ensure far more manageable household bills for those who reside there.

Of course, the same pressures to compete with other housebuilders will still apply, and many will be looking into technologies which support the carbon neutrality of a home with the least possible intrusion on its appearance. For this reason, in roof solar panels are already expected to represent a prime target for these developers, due to their ability to integrate within the roof of a new build and encroach as little as possible on the overall aesthetic of the build.

Are the Latest Updates Enough?

When it comes to closing the gap between the UK’s current emissions and its targets for 2050, any news which serves to edge us closer to that key objective should be seen as a positive. Efforts toward a renewable and safe future exist on a spectrum, and it is not only the extremes which should be seen as momentous.

Still, opinion remains divided over whether or not the updates to the standard are pushing home builders as far as they can feasibly go. Given the technologies available to us in 2021, many feel that the goal of a 75% - 80% reduction in carbon emissions is attainable far sooner than 2025, and that the UK’s fight to reduce its carbon footprint will suffer needlessly as a result.

What’s more, the Royal Institute of British Architects released their own statement arguing that a firm limit for domestic carbon emissions – rather than an approach based on comparison to previous builds – would ensure clarity for the industry, and a far more promising path forward for the UK’s homebuilding industry – and, by extension, homebuyers.

What’s more, it remains in local authorities’ power to set higher targets for sustainability for any new homes being built within that area. What this means is that pockets of the UK could opt to strive for greater reductions – and well before the government’s 2025 deadline. While this remains to be seen, it seems likely that an increasing number of environmentally-conscious districts and boroughs across the country could opt to press forward with their own initiatives, and that the government’s standards will simply ensure a ‘minimum possible effort’ for those parts of the UK that are falling behind the rest.

What Can We Expect Going Forward?

For the time being, as the dust settles on these latest updates, we can anticipate a grace period as developers and builders devise their own approach to meeting the initial target of a 31% reduction. Of course, some will welcome the change with open arms, and we can expect that the relatively new trend toward sustainable new builds will grow increasingly competitive.

What this will mean is a significant boost to businesses operating within the renewable energy sector, as the most impactful and cost-effective technologies are pursued in order to ensure the preservation of the homebuilding sector alongside the development of a sustainable and more manageable future for UK homeowners.


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