Attending Futurebuild in London highlighted a number of economic and environmental challenges for the built environment. However, the topic at the forefront of my mind is knowing that we have to change our approach to how we heat our homes, and move away from fossil fuels, but that we have to support this change and the people involved.
The theme of Futurebuild was ‘Time For Action’ and this is incredibly apt with the current focus on sustainability, a rise in fuel poverty and the need to ensure that our homes are safe and provide an environmentally sound and healthy future for us all.
The challenges are clear, but what is our response? International commitments have been made, and strategies drawn up, including the Clean Growth Strategy. Last month the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) published their UK Housing report, proposing measures that UK Government, householders and developers need to adopt now if the UK is to meet 2050 emissions targets.
The CCC identify that the Government needs to take immediate action to improve the UK’s housing stock and help achieve long-term emissions reduction targets through enforcing standards, ensuring compliance, delivering skills, retrofitting existing homes and ensuring that new homes are low-carbon, energy efficient and climate resilient.
The report recommends that no new homes should be connected to the gas grid by 2025 at the latest and I welcome this disruptive proposal.
What difference would it make to our plans and our choices if ‘burning stuff’ to keep us warm actually ceased to be an option?
This disruption creates a platform for renewable heat, particularly ground and air source heat pumps. These technologies have been well developed and are now commonplace across much of the Northern Hemisphere, where temperatures can fall and rise across an extreme range, proving the effectiveness of this technology.
Future-proofing new builds
The CCC report suggests that installing heat pumps could increase the value of a home and also found that, for the homeowner, future-proofing new builds through installing appropriate heat emitters and low temperature compatible systems now, could save in the region of £5.5k which would be the cost of retrofitting low-carbon heat from scratch.
Heat pumps are a low temperature heat source that works best when paired with underfloor heating in a suitably insulated property. Ideal then for a new build construction. However, with planning and appropriate heating design, heat pumps with underfloor can also be retrofitted, as one of the suggested measures for upgrading our housing stock.
So, how do we manage the transition effectively and responsibly to this bright new future? That is the challenge. Not ‘if’ but ‘how’. Clear and actionable government policy is now required and last week, as part of the Spring Statement, Philip Hammond announced a new Future Homes Standard with the intention of cutting the energy use of new builds in half by 2030.
The details of the new standard will be consulted on during 2019 and are expected to change the way we build our future homes. In response, manufacturers will need to reframe their product ranges and consider routes to market.
Industry partnerships must be encouraged
If all new build homes will be required to have low carbon heating from the end of 2025, with no more fossil fuel heating systems and ‘world leading’ levels of energy efficiency, then industry partnerships that accelerate the adoption of low temperature systems must be encouraged and support and training for builders and installers is key.
I welcome the proposal to introduce the Future Homes Standard but ideally I would like to see this standard adopted sooner. We also must not lose sight of the other CCC recommendations, the fact that 80% of the homes we will need in 2050 already exist, and that this legacy of carbon emissions must be tackled too.
There is more work to be done, and whilst we need to consider the challenges faced by the many businesses reliant on current technology and use of fossil fuels, we must also be very mindful of how the future must look.
As Futurebuild has re-emphasised, more and more individuals, organisations, and now the Government, are beginning to seriously consider the alternatives. This gives me hope for the future and confidence that we can accelerate the transformation required for us to work our way responsibly towards it.