07 - 09 March 2023 | ExCeL, London

07 - 09 March 2023
ExCeL, London

Opinion piece

Time to Reflect on the Standard of our Homes

An opinion piece article by Gavin Dunn, Chief Executive, Chartered Association of Building Engineers (CABE)

This month (June 2022) saw the latest set of changes to England’s building regulations come into effect. Affecting all new build homes in England, the changes to Part F, L, O and S (FLOS) encompass new requirements for ventilation, energy measures to prevent overheating, and electric car charging infrastructures. These changes to the regulations represent the first step towards the Future Home Standard.

As Chair of the Future Homes Standard Working Group for the Building Regulation Advisory Committee (BRAC), I was one of the many people involved in this work and advised government on the necessary changes. It is not just an important opportunity for me personally, but I also hope that those in the industry reflect on where they are on the journey to making sure our homes are fit for a zero-carbon world. Homes that are resilient to the effects of climate change and continue to provide the necessary environments to keep people safe, productive, and healthy now and in the future are essential to meeting the UK’s net-zero carbon objectives.

For me personally, it is definitely a time to reflect not only on what has been achieved, but also what needs to be passed on to the next Chairman of the Future Homes Standard Working Group. The latest changes represent a halfway step towards the ultimate level of energy and carbon performance that we are going to need moving forward; and provides a 31% improvement over 2013 Part L standards. Although the changes we have seen introduced this month are a significant step in the requirements for delivering our own expectations and performance for our homes, attention now also needs to focus on the next steps and look at what else needs to be addressed. This includes a need for a significant shift away from the predominance, and the favouring, of natural gas in the regulations to support a progressive shift to electricity as our primary source of heating.

I’m pleased that this package of work has become an integrated set of changes across multiple parts of the building regulations, the alignment of regulation changes on ventilation and conservation of fuel and power was established in 2006, but, probably to its detriment, was subsequently lost somewhere along the way. The new standards have also introduced a set of more meaningful and robust measures to prevent new homes overheating, an essential part in ensuring our homes are resilient to climate change. As many as half the homes in the country will be at risk of severe overheating within the coming decades, so it is imperative that we ensure our homes do not overheat in summer but are also efficient and warm in the winter.

The requirements for electric car charging infrastructure, while not originally a building regulatory requirement, is clearly now an essential part of how our society and the infrastructure requirements are changing rapidly and, therefore, being able to incorporate these changes within the building regulations is an all too rare sign of joined up government and clearly a further significant change for the construction industry.

All these changes will have an impact on all future housing development, the types of technologies and materials we use, and the expectation of performance that we are going to have to deliver. It will not be easy, and I have no doubt that some elements won’t quite go according to plan all of the time, but it is important that we understand these changes are necessary and approach it with a degree of ambition to continue to move forward to the goal. Hopefully the transitional arrangements will aid in the faster adoption of these standards while not impeding the ability of our home builders to remain commercially successful.

We must also take the opportunity to look forward; and while I may be stepping down as Chair of the Future Home Standard Working Group, someone else will be picking up the baton to drive forward the next phase of the Future Home Standard that need to be ready for implementation in 2025. Indeed, we expect this to be published and consulted on starting next year and will continue the journey of more integration and higher performance expectations across the FLOS building regulations and will lead to new homes achieving a 70-80% improvement in carbon performance compared to the 2013 standards.

Changes to FLOS need to continue to be joined up, especially in regard to ventilation, overheating and energy systems. Fully electric heating will be required from 2025 meaning an energy demand mix within our buildings which is considerably different to what we see today. I would also like to hope that in 2025 we will also see a significant shift in how we go about ensuring that the performance gap is a thing of the past. It will be essential that not only designing high performance homes, but also constructing ones that actually perform to those expectations.

While in the current changes introduced some simple step-changes towards improving compliance such as site photos and energy assessor sign-off, in 2025 standards might include more a meaningful package of changes that provides accountability and means of address to homeowners when homes fail to perform as they should. Today this sounds daunting things are changing quickly and with the ever-increasing availability of low-cost sensors, data bandwidth, and the ability to analyse data at scale, I do believe the technologies will be available to make this simple and affordable.

If we look further into the future we can expect to see more detailed requirements that look at the wider environmental factors and will consider the carbon implications of constructing homes including the impact of materials, transport, and site emissions. Even only a few years ago, that seemed a far-fetched dream that officials barely even acknowledged, but I do believe it is now fundamentally on the future regulatory agenda and I expect embodied carbon to be within the building regulatory framework within a decade. Indeed, recently the parliamentary select committee went further and called for whole carbon lifecycle calculations to be included in the design of new homes as part of the Future Home Standard in 2025.

So here we are in June 2022, considering the immediate implications of the changes that are affecting planning and homes designs now. But it is also critical that we don’t lose sight of the reality that this is just the first step of a much bigger journey. Difficult and complicated maybe, but necessary and one I genuinely hope our industry is ready to embrace.

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