“Mixed messages” for Zero Carbon 2016

marleyThe Government has committed itself to achieving the Zero Carbon target, set by the previous administration, which states that from 2016, all new homes built in England will have to be Zero Carbon. This means that there should be no carbon emissions generated from the energy required to heat and light the home.

This was originally going to be delivered through the Code for Sustainable Homes (CfSH), which the Government has announced will be scrapped this year. It has promised further announcements on this but as yet, none have been made and this has led to widespread confusion and a sense of limbo, as there is uncertainty about what house-builders are working towards. At the moment, the Code for Sustainable Homes still applies but the Government is winding this down in 2015.

Instead, the Government will strengthen the minimum requirements for onsite energy efficiency under Part L of the Building Regulations in 2016. This will be set at a level equivalent to the energy standard of Level 4 of the Code for Sustainable Homes, which is a 20% improvement from the current standard. Under the original Zero Carbon policy, the rest of the carbon emissions would have to be eliminated onsite, for example through the use of renewable energy sources such as solar panels. However, it is not always technically feasible or economically viable to eliminate all carbon emissions by using on site measures, such as fabric insulation, energy efficient services, or the use of renewable energy sources. The Government, therefore, is bringing forward its proposals for allowable solutions to allow house-builders to offset residual carbon emissions from new homes against savings made on or off-site; investing in a wind farm for example, to achieve net zero carbon emissions.

Disappointing to see CfSH end

We are disappointed to see the end of the Code for Sustainable Homes because, despite its complications and bureaucratic nature, the scheme did incentivise house-builders to use more sustainable materials and encouraged manufacturers to invest in sustainable innovation in their own products and processes. Architects we spoke to at an event in November said that CfSH and BREEAM had been instrumental in getting them to choose products from the BRE Green Guide that are not only ?A’ rated, but certified to a responsible sourcing scheme.

Yet this vital element of choosing materials that are responsibly sourced, with the least impact on the environment, is not included in the new Building Regulations and neither is health and wellbeing. So, without a mandate from Government, house-builders won’t have the same incentive to choose sustainable building materials when cost pressures are so high.

In response to this, the BRE is developing a ?voluntary sustainability standard’ for new homes (a ?BREEAM for Housing’) that will allow developers to differentiate their properties in the marketplace by recognising performance beyond minimum regulations. We understand that this is due to be launched in 2015, with the scheme likely to start taking registrations in the second or third quarter. This should help to maintain the momentum towards increasing sustainability in the housing sector and has the potential to fill some of the gaps that will be left by scrapping the CfSH. It recognises that sustainable housing isn’t just about energy efficiency but also about the materials used to build the homes and using our resources efficiently, as well as protecting properties from extreme weather.  

We welcome the development of this standard and would be keen to see sustainable materials use and responsible sourcing pl