The influential Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has published a report in which it considers whether the UK's housing stock is prepared for the challenges of climate change. The report makes a series of recommendations for existing housing stock, but more critically, it highlights the measures it thinks should be incorporated into new residential developments.
Whilst the recommendations are not binding on Government, the CCC has a statutory role to advise the UK Government and has a duty to report to Parliament on progress made both in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for climate change - as such it is likely that the recommendations made will be examined very closely by senior Ministers. Furthermore, the report will give developers valuable insight as to what standards may be coming down the road. This briefing sets out the key recommendations made.
The CCC notes that emissions reductions from the UK's 29 million homes have stalled and at the same time, household energy use has increased. Domestic heating and hot water accounts for 25% of total energy use in the UK and 15% of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions - a further 4% of emissions derive from electricity use for domestic appliances and lighting. Our homes have a very significant environmental impact.
The CCC believes that greenhouse gas emissions from buildings need to be eliminated if legally-binding climate change targets are to be met. The CCC's report argues that high quality, low carbon, climate change-resilient homes can be constructed based on current technologies and skills, but Government policies are failing to deliver transformative changes.
Five priorities for Government
In its report, the CCC identifies five priorities for Government:
- Performance and Compliance - The CCC argues that reducing the gap between the energy efficiency of new homes "as designed", and "as built" could save between £70 and £260 in annual household energy bills. The CCC's report explains that inspection levels should be increased and stricter enforcement of building standards introduced, alongside stiffer penalties for non-compliance in order to drive up standards and reduce the performance gap.
- Low Carbon Skills Gap - the CCC believes that there is a skills gap in housing design, construction and in the installation of measures such as low carbon heating, energy and water efficiency, ventilation and thermal comfort and property-level flood resilience, which could be improved if the Government were to invest additional funds in training.
- Retrofitting Existing Housing Stock - the CCC notes that there are 29 million homes in the UK that must be made resilient to a rapidly changing climate. The CCC argues that there needs to be an increase in the uptake of energy efficiency measures such as insulation, as well as retrofitting passive cooling measures, measures to reduce indoor moisture, water efficiency and the installation of property-level flood protection measures - whilst 1.8 million people currently live in areas at risk of significant river, surface water or coastal flooding, this figure rises to 3.5 million people under a 4 degrees Celsius scenario by the 2080s.
- Build New Homes - the CCC report acknowledges that hundreds of thousands of new homes need to be built and makes the case that these must be low-carbon, energy and water efficient and climate resilient. Furthermore, the CCC argues that these new homes should have ultra-high levels of energy efficiency, improved ventilation and where possible, be timber framed (see below).
- Finance and Funding - the CCC report notes that the Government has proposed to fund low carbon heating until 2021 only and that resources for local authority building control departments is too low. The CCC propose that recommendations from the Green Finance Taskforce regarding green lending products should be implemented in order to finance the upfront costs of installing energy efficiency measures
The CCC makes a total of 36 recommendations and in relation to the building of new homes, the report states that immediate Government action is needed to ensure homes are fit for purpose. The report makes the case for an "ambitious trajectory of standards, regulations and targets for new homes" and makes recommendations as follows:
- By 2025, no homes should be connected to the gas grid, but instead heated through low carbon sources, such as heat pumps and low-carbon heat networks.
- New homes should be suitable for low carbon heating, with larger-sized radiators (2.5 times the output of standard radiators) and low-temperature compatible hot water stores. Whilst the CCC recognises that these add to the upfront cost of a new build home, it explains that the costs are dramatically lower when compared to subsequent retrofitting
- New homes should deliver ultra-high levels of energy efficiency as soon as possible and by 2025 at the latest - consistent with a space heat demand of 15-20 kWh/m2 per year.
- Statutory requirements should be put in place to prevent overheating risk in new homes - passive cooling measures should be adopted before active measures (such as air conditioning).
- Improved focus on the whole-life carbon impact of new homes - using wood to displace high carbon materials such as cement and steel. For example, increasing the number of timber-framed homes from 27,000-50,000 per year to 270,000 could triple the amount of carbon stored in UK homes.
- Domestic water efficiency performance should be improved to reduce the amount of water consumed - increased metering, compulsory water efficiency labelling and more ambitious Building Regulations.
- Flood resilience measures and community and property-level should be strengthened and multi-functional SuDs (sustainable drainage systems) encouraged, with the automatic right to connect to sewage networks made conditional on national SuDs standards being met.
- New developments should enable sustainable travel - infrastructure should be provided to encourage walking, cycling, the use of public transport and electric vehicles (for example, by requiring appropriate cabling ready for the installation of chargers for off-street parking spaces)
Some housebuilders will be incorporating many of the measures and best practices recommended by the CCC already, however the CCC is urging Government to take action so that all players in the market are required to take action to improve the sustainability of the homes they build and communities they create.
It is important to bear in mind that many energy-efficiency measures will be expensive and consumer opinion has to change in order that the higher upfront cost of home buying is accepted as a trade-off for lower home-running costs in future. In this respect, it is significant that the CCC recognised that Government action is needed with respect to increasing the options available for financing green improvements.
The Government has not had opportunity to respond, even informally, to the CCC report, but the influence and authority of the CCC is significant and so the report provides useful insight into what changes might well be forthcoming to Building Regulations, which gives housebuilders advance warning of likely future requirements and potentially, consumer expectations.