Home is where the heart is, but with climate change the way our homes are built and required to function is shifting. Overheating is just one example that is being discussed at length within the academic and commercial sectors. Projections for UK homes in 2050 and 2080 show significant issues around overheating and sustained overheating during longer periods than currently designed for. Here, Claire Brown argues that decarbonising the UK residential sector requires clear leadership, collaboration, and strong legislative support.
- UK cities and towns of the future will have to take note of risks around sustained overheating and construct homes with climate resilience at their core.
- Rapid deployment of energy efficiency measures for UK homes is needed to meet carbon reduction targets in the CCC’s Sixth Carbon Budget (2033-37).
- The Future Homes Standard should be as stringent and progressive as possible and should include tighter regulations on building materials and lower heat loss.
- In addition to sustained emissions reduction, overheating risk should be prioritised to address the risk within homes via the building regulations.
As communities change as a result of climate change impacts, housing will undoubtedly need to adapt to the needs of these communities. The Building Research Establishment (BRE) and Homes England Home of 2030 competition challenged housing professionals to think about how this might look. The support of Homes England for this competition shows support for thinking about future housing needs and how innovative approaches are required. The resulting joint winners identified two keys areas for consideration: the need for community-led self-build projects, and the need to multigenerational communities that reflect a changing dynamic. What this means is a change from what we are seeing at scale – developments that permit autonomy in design options, but also consider the benefit to communities by having a diversity of generations. This offers an opportunity for climate resilience as well.
The importance of building standards
Current UK policy does not reflect the standards to which houses need to be built to reduce our carbon emissions, or build resilience in housing stock for a changing climate. The deregulation of the requirement of the zero-carbon home in 2016 is reported to have resulted in almost 800,000 homes being built to lower energy standards leaving new homeowners and tenants in properties that will need retrofitting to then meet climate-resilient or energy-efficient standards.
While there are promising discussions around support for a decarbonised UK residential sector – there is little within current UK legislation to support this. However, within the devolved government of Wales, progress is being made. The Welsh government has announced that from October 2021 no new social homes will be built with a gas boiler to achieve an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of A. This is a step in the right direction for decarbonising the UK’s residences.
Gaps in the legislative landscape
Homes within the UK are predominantly built for heating demand, but with a changing climate, this is likely to also include cooling demands. Homes are predictions of future lifestyles as they are built for ways of living that demand certain levels of resource use. We need to be designing homes that enable different forms of everyday activity, to support lifestyles that result in low-intensive patterns of energy and water, such as moving from a car-centric philosophy to one that considers the importance of pedestrian routes and safe cycle routes and has a decarbonised heating service at the core. This has wider links to co-housing schemes such as the example at Lancaster Co-housing where the onus is on the community work together. They have an electric car share scheme and weekly cooking provided for all residents. The design is also the most efficient it could be at the time of construction, meeting Passive Haus certification on levels of air tightness and insulation.
Designing buildings which can adapt to lifestyles and the climate will be essential. Having a home that you can stay in, or that can easily be adapted, was previously a building certification scheme. The Lifetime Homes Standard reflected demand for homes that could allow a person to remain in their own home, even if that meant a lifestyle change; for example, if someone was confined to a wheelchair the door frames would be built to be wide enough for a standard wheelchair, or a downstairs toilet, if included, would mean access for someone who might struggle to use an upstairs bathroom. However, like the Code for Sustainable Homes which it was part of, this is no longer a legal requirement, leaving another gap within the legislative landscape to push improvements.
How can we meet carbon emissions targets?
The gap that exists can be fixed, but it will take clear leadership, collaboration and strong legislative support to enact the change that is needed. The Committee on Climate Change released a study in April 2021 that highlighted the pathway for change needed to meet the Sixth Carbon Budget between 2033 and 2037. This found that more rapid deployment of energy efficiency measures for UK homes is needed and current support means it might be missed. Missing the target for the Sixth Carbon Budget would be a huge concern to those who have so long campaigned for energy efficiency measures to be key in the UK decarbonisation plan and for private home owners who want that policy support for house improvements. The Local Authority Delivery Scheme element of the Green Homes Grant meant that local actors have been able to access resources to improve homes within their boundaries, but what is needed is more and at scale.
Supporting the proposed new policies in line with meeting the Sixth Carbon budget and updates to building regulations is a key way that the UK can progress. The Future Homes Standard will be a key asset, as long as it is as stringent and progressive as it can be. Adding in vital stepped improvements for tighter regulations on building materials and lower heat loss will benefit new housing and new buildings. This would make meeting the UK carbon emission reduction targets possible, and would mean taking responsibility at the global level to do all that is possible to support a lower carbon future and minimise the risk of significant climate change negative impacts. It would mean we at least have a chance of meeting the targets for reducing UK carbon emissions to limit the predicted negative impacts of climate change, which will see warmer and wetter weather for the country.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is at the core of this step change that is needed. The guidance and policies that come out of this department are key and the change. The UK Committee on Climate Change themselves reported in the 2021 progress report to parliament that some progress had been made around the energy sector, but that a strong Heat and Buildings Strategy is needed to maintain the required sustained reduction in emissions, with recommendations that overheating risk should be prioritised to address the risk within homes via the building regulations. As Lord Deben said, “We are in the decisive decade for tackling climate change. The government must get real on delivery.” Action and delivery is what is needed, and now.
This article was originally published in Building Utopia, a collection of thought leadership pieces and expert analysis on urban development, published by Policy@Manchester.
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