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The Future Homes Standard: Is the future electric?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer splashed a touch of green over the Spring Statement by announcing a number of environmental policies aimed at younger voters.

One such announcement was the introduction of a ‘Future Homes Standard’ in 2025 which will set minimum environmental standards for all new housing, including a commitment to removing traditional fossil fuel heating systems.

The announcement was not accompanied by a draft standard or any further information, and so we have taken the liberty of trying to understand the drivers for this and, perhaps more importantly, what might be in it.

Drivers behind the standard

It is well known that we must continue to drive down future carbon emissions from the built environment if we are to meet our legally binding carbon reduction targets. With the last amendment to Building Regulations having happened in 2013, a tightening of requirements was likely (with or without BREXIT).

The chancellor’s announcement that no new homes beyond 2025 should contain fossil fuel (such as gas and oil) heating systems is based upon sound and practical facts that have been recognised for some time, and are having a marked impact on our approach to projects such as large new settlements and decentralised energy systems such as gas fired combined heat and power.

Essentially the carbon content of the power we draw from the national grid has been falling significantly as we reduce our reliance on coal fired power generation and increase the percentage from renewable energy, particularly offshore wind. This decarbonisation is projected to continue to 2100. This is good news!

The natural gas that we use to heat most of our homes, and fire a combined heat and power system for example, has relatively fixed carbon content and so there is a point (not too far away) where burning gas creates more carbon than using electricity. Even the proposed introduction of green gas to the UK gas network is unlikely to change this in the short to medium term.  One potential consequence, however, is the fact that gas is significantly cheaper than electricity and bills may increase unless energy efficiency measures are increased proportionally.

What might the Future Homes Standard include?

With regards to content, it would be wise to refer to the recent report by the Committee on Climate Change ‘UK Housing Fit for the Future’ which presents a series of recommendations to Government to ensure our existing and future housing stock is fit for a future climate. Some of these recommendations are:

  1. Ensuring all new homes do not connect to the gas grid by 2025 and instead are heated by low carbon heating sources such as ground and air source heat pumps and solar PV
  2. Increase air tightness to ensure the heat (and cooling) is contained within the house for longer
  3. Increase levels of water efficiency and the use of more green infrastructure in and around dwellings
  4. Greater flood resilience measures throughout such as higher electric points, concrete floors and less hard landscaping
  5. Use of mechanical ventilation and heat recovery to control the internal environment and recover heat where possible
  6. Greater consideration of overheating and the risks to residents
  7. Dramatically improve levels of energy efficiency
  8. Move to low carbon materials for construction such as wood to create timber framed houses
  9. Support the housebuilding industry to deliver a step change in construction skills, with a greater focus on pre-fabrication and low carbon construction
  10. Planning and delivering homes with the infrastructure to support sustainable travel such as locating homes close to key services, facilities and transport nodes and providing cycle racks and Electric Vehicle charging points. In essence, good planning!

The report also strongly recommends that the Government takes action to address the multi-billion pound funding gap to deliver low carbon heating. Ultimately the Government is urged to follow the recommendations from the Green Finance Taskforce which presented various measures including the use of green mortgages and loans, and work with organisations such as the National Infrastructure Commission and others to research new standards for homes and infrastructure.

The report also notes that all of the actions recommended will have multiple benefits to the economy, such as potential savings to the NHS (from improved existing housing stock) and increased housing delivery from improved pre-fabrication and construction; the latter being something that the housebuilding industry is already investing in and developing.

At present, we know little about what might be in the Future Homes Standard so all of this (perhaps with the exception of electric heating) is speculation. However, the report is a thorough piece of work with a lot of sensible recommendations so perhaps the Government is listening.

We are waiting for the details now!

For more information on the Future Homes Standard, please contact Colin Morrison.

5 April 2019