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Energy Efficient New Homes versus Same Old Same Old

We have the worst performing housing stock in northern Europe. Most of this stock is old but we continue to build as if energy was still cheap.

New houses built to current building regulations are significantly worse performing than their German, rx Scandinavian or Canadian counterparts.

Zero Carbon House is shorthand for a house built to a standard which does not waste energy on unnecessary heating.

The Government had a plan to build Zero Carbon houses by 2016 which required an uplift in the Building Regulations energy performance requirements by 25% this year, pills but after consultation this became a 6% increase so we won’t be hitting that target.

Houses built to the Passive House standard (which was developed by a German and a Swede) use very little energy for space heating. The same standards have been used in the UK on a small scale and perform well here as well.

So how does Passive House work and why don’t we use it?

If a box is well insulated and draft proof then it stays at the same temperature inside. Put a person in this box then heat and moisture will be generated by them, their activities and devices, so ventilation is required to maintain air quality. Passive Houses use Ventilation systems incorporating heat exchangers which use exhaust air to heat (or cool) the fresh air coming in and recover about 90% of this heat. The designers also pay attention to how heat from the sun enters the building. Not that hard really.

So why don’t we use a similar methodology?

Because we buy houses based on price, location, number of bedrooms, local schools etc and don’t require good standards of our builders so they build what they know we will buy. They will take the most profitable route which is why they resist Building Regs improvements. Registered Social Landlord’s funding is also based on the requirements of the Building Regulations so they struggle to build to more stringent standards. Making homes draft proof requires attention to detail and the management challenge that gives Britain’s sub-contract building culture is not welcomed.

The extra cost of Zero Carbon building is around 10% and will drop as volumes grow. Occupants would save around £1,000 p.a. on average but that seems not to matter. So people are buying homes that can quickly tip them into fuel poverty.

If all homes cost more to build then land prices would adjust down to what builders know they can afford and the customer still pays the market rate.

Councils have the power to make Energy Efficiency standards a condition for planning permission so why not do that.

Unless we abandon Greenhouse Gas reduction targets and leave low income families in fuel poverty then the change has to come. Any builder that gets ahead of the curve will have a competitive advantage.

The challenge is primarily one of management and Liverpool City Council is in a position to nudge local firms to sort their act out.

To be blunt the 5,000 new homes we are building could be wasting £5,000,000 p.a. in energy costs and will need retrofitting to comply with the targets Britain has already signed up to legally enforce.

Geoff Cunningham
Calibrate Ltd

Written by Gather

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