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Getting up to standard: shifting the built environment towards net zero

Posted: 15/04/2021


According to the Climate Change Committee, the independent body which advises the Government on emissions targets, buildings account for 34% of total UK greenhouse gas emissions.

Understandably, following the Government’s commitment to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, regulations covering the built environment have been under the spotlight. The Government has stated that it wants to put in place the Future Homes Standard and Future Buildings Standard by 2025. This will force the building industry to move closer to the 2050 net-zero target.

The Future Homes Standard

In 2019, the Government commenced a two-stage consultation on the proposed changes. The first stage focused on the Future Homes Standard and proposed changes to Part L (conservation of fuel and power) and Part F (ventilation) of the building regulations for new dwellings. More than 3300 responses were forthcoming, with almost half coming from people identifying as a designer, engineer or surveyor. The summary of responses and the Government’s response were published in January 2021.

In its response, the Government restated its intention that the Future Homes Standard will ensure that the average home will produce at least 75% lower carbon dioxide emissions than one built to current energy efficiency standards. It does not want any new home to be built from 2025 with fossil fuel heating such as a natural gas boiler. The objective will be to future-proof homes so that no energy efficiency retrofit work is necessary.

Many technical points are covered in the document, but some of the most notable wider points relating to Part L are:

  • The Government will not amend the Planning and Energy Act 2008 to restrict local planning authorities from setting higher energy efficiency standards for dwellings (something that some authorities opposed, such as in London where more stringent energy efficiency standards have been applied beyond national guidelines for some time).
  • The Government has accelerated its work on a full technical specification for the Future Homes Standard. It will consult on this in 2023, introduce the necessary legislation in 2024 and fully implement the Future Homes Standard in 2025.
  • The Government confirmed the fabric-first approach to be sound and that it will inform the introduction of the new Part L.
  • Having decided to retain the Fabric Energy Efficiency Standard, the interim 2021 Part L will use four new performance metrics: i) primary energy target; ii) carbon dioxide emissions target; iii) fabric energy efficiency target; and iv) minimum standards for fabric and fixed building surfaces.

In relation to Part F, the consultation included proposed changes such as:

  • simplifying the approach for determining the ventilation rate and system design requirements for a dwelling;
  • reviewing the way that ventilation systems are presented;
  • bringing guidance to reduce ingress of external air pollution into the main body of the approved document;
  • making technical changes to guidance for ventilation systems in line with the latest evidence and understanding; and
  • simplifying the structure and content of the guidance relating to Part F.

In general, responses to the document seem to have been positive, although some concern has been raised at the ongoing focus on new buildings rather than the existing housing stock, while others think the timescale is not ambitious enough. However, Emma Harvey, the programme director for the Coalition for the Energy Efficiency of Buildings at the Green Finance Institute, said that the clarity on standards was welcome and that the announcement would give the finance industry further confidence in the work it is doing to help the built environment sector pivot towards net zero.

The Future Buildings Standard

In parallel with releasing its summary and response to the Future Homes Standard consultation, the Government published the second part of its consultation, which relates to the Future Buildings Standard. This document focuses on changes to Part L and Part F for non-domestic buildings and dwellings, and overheating in new residential buildings.

This second consultation comprises 132 questions and is in two sections. The first section covers new and existing non-domestic buildings and includes the interim uplifts for Part L and Part F standards for new and existing non-domestic buildings together with the roadmap for the implementation of the Future Buildings Standard from 2025. It sets out what the Government thinks the Future Buildings Standard will look like, as well as providing the technical specification for the standard. It states that its vision is to transition non-domestic buildings to use low-carbon heat sources for heating and hot water.

The second section covers new and existing domestic buildings including, again, the 2021 uplift of Part L and Part F standards for existing homes and some new homes. It details a new standard for mitigating overheating in new residential buildings, which is proposed to apply to domestic buildings as well as some non-domestic buildings that provide residential accommodation (such as halls of residence). The consultation also sets out proposed uplifts in energy and ventilation standards when work is done to existing homes.

The bigger problem

Of course, the real elephant in the room is the volume of legacy building stock in the country that will continue to fall far short of the standards proposed for new-build properties. If we are to meet net zero by 2050 then it is these buildings that will need to be dealt with, and many existing owners may not share the zeal of the Government when retrofitting requirements come to be addressed.

This article was published in Estates Gazette in March 2021.


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