Future Homes Standard: does it go far enough?

Few issues are as likely to shape the UK housing sector in the coming decade as the need to climate-proof our homes.

Hand holding a model of a natural, green house

With a net zero emissions target enshrined in law, the 2020s will bring an increased focus on policies and technologies needed to make domestic life carbon-free.

For too long carbon emissions from housing have flat-lined – partly as a result of building more homes to house a growing population, but also due to British housing being among the leakiest in Europe.

Millions of poorly insulated homes means that much of the heat we generate quickly ends up outside.

There is no shortage of solutions to this problem; better insulation, clean heat sources, roof-mounted renewables, to name just three.

But the obvious place to start is to ensure that new homes are built to – and actually adhere to – the highest standards, slashing energy waste and energy bills.

Stopping new homes connecting to the gas grid and boosting insulation standards will lock in lower energy use – better for the environment and for household budgets.

The government touts its Future Homes Standard as a means of boosting the quality of new homes. While it is a welcome statement of intent, a few wrinkles need ironing out.

Unusually for a government keen on decentralisation, the policy will remove the ability of local authorities to demand that new properties meet tighter standards than those imposed on a national level.

This will dirty the green credentials of new homes in cities such as London, Nottingham and Bristol, where ambitious mayors and councillors have pushed standards higher in recent years.

There is also little concrete action to tackle the performance gap, the difference between real-world energy use and that modelled at design stage.

The government’s statutory climate advisors have estimated that this can add £260 onto annual energy bills and will see an extra two million tonnes of CO2 released each year.

Add to this concerns around a lack of overall ambition. Coming into effect in 2025, regulations in the Future Homes Standard come into effect close to a decade after George Osborne canned the Zero Carbon Homes measure.

Acknowledgement of this delay, and of the millions of homes built to outdated regulations, is sorely missing from the consultation.

Signs from the natural world couldn’t be clearer – nor could warnings from scientists or demands from the UK public.

Action to curb emissions has never been more urgent.

A rigorous determination to tackle carbon from buildings will make the 2020s a decade of housing renewal that takes long overdue action on carbon emissions from our homes, cracking down on waste heat, cutting energy bills and keeping Britons warm.

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