You enter a time machine and set the keys to the year 2050. What would you discover if you take a step outside? If all goes as planned, the UK economy will be ‘zero emissions.’ This work of science is not fiction. The UK government has made a legal promise.
Housing may play a significant role in this. The Committee on Climate Change, which reviews the United Kingdom’s progress against climate goals, said in 2018 that this is not possible “without almost complete decarbonization of the housing stock.”
So how can we achieve such a significant reduction in our carbon footprint? And how can social tenants be involved? Within the housing is taking you on a trip through the UK’s green building strategy of the past – and the plans for the future – to find out how Daniel Roberts carbon capturing can get from here to there.
Let us go back in time and discover how we arrived here. That was the month of December 2006. Take It was at the top of the charts. The country was on a roll. Outside of banking circles, no one has learned of subprime loans. And, on the verge of becoming Prime Minister, Gordon Brown delivered a speech outlining one of the most progressive housing plans in decades. He claims that over the next ten years, “every new house will be a zero-carbon home.”
Spoiler alert: it did not take place. But that’s the short edition. The long tail is a little more complicated. It includes social landlords enthusiastically participating in successive government agendas to reduce greenhouse emissions from new and existing housing, only to see their attempts effectively derailed.
Following the announcement of the zero-carbon homes target for 2016, policy gears began to change. A zero-carbon house was expected to cost between £120,000 and £140,000 to build at the time, relative to an £85,000 commonly built home. Developers had ten years to reach the deadline. The government established a body named the Zero Carbon Hub, which made policy decisions and tracked progress.
Simultaneously, the Code for Sustainable Homes was broadly introduced by planners before being – briefly – mandatory in England. This established environmental criteria for new homes, including energy conservation and flood control, pollution, building materials, water use, and site ecology. Homes should strive for varying degrees of ambition, ranging from Level 1 to Level 6: a “net-zero” home with excellent sustainability scores across the board.
Many social landlords took the initiative. Hastoe released its Sustainable Homes consultancy as early as 1997, indicating that the industry already had pockets of creativity. They aided these government policies even further. Grant support in England has been made conditional on homes reaching at least a Level 3 in the code since 2008.
Metropolitan Housing Association was the first developer in the UK to complete homes to Level 6 in a select group of six properties in Northampton, at an additional cost of £26,500 per house.
The transition of government in 2010, when the Liberal Democrat-Conservative alliance ousted Labour, did not suddenly signal a significant shift in policy. David Cameron has positioned himself as passionate about this subject, aiming to be the “greenest government ever.”
The issues arguably began in 2012 with the coalition’s doomed Green Deal scheme. You intended to be the impetus for one million green home upgrades, or “retrofits.” However, the scheme failed, and you accepted only a few thousand of the offers.
Energy Company Access Obligation support for retrofits – estimated to be worth around £1.3 billion a year – was therefore not always easy to come by. Orbit was among the first to commit to a target of retrofitting all of its stock to an Energy Performance Certificate standard of C by 2020. However, as Inside Housing revealed at the time, by 2014, it will have to cover the majority of the projected £85 million expense on its own. Orbit claims that more than three-quarters of its homes have been upgraded to C or higher, but it fell short of its target.
Then it was the 2015 election. The Conservatives gained an absolute mandate, and the entire legislative environment shifted within months. You abandoned the zero-carbon goal just months before it was set to go into practice. The Zero Carbon Hub and the Code for Sustainable Homes were also abandoned.
What exactly is a zero-carbon home?
A low-carbon home emits zero greenhouse gas emissions.
Carbon is emitted during the building of a house, both in the materials used and in the construction itself. Then there’s the matter of ventilation and energy use. Most experts advise keeping the house as energy safe as possible through carbon capturing before ‘offset’ the remaining emissions with renewables.
It is debatable how much more effective the house can be and how much renewables should be used. Material selection is essential, but it is not currently discussed in policy: for example, producing a tonne of standard concrete emits about half a tonne of CO2.
Another complication is the ‘performance difference’ – a building may be designed to meet a certain level of energy efficiency on paper, but this may or may not be accomplished based on the quality of construction.
Louie is the father behind the travel blog Browseeverywhere.com. He has a background in photography, E-commerce, and writing product reviews online at ConsumerReviews24. Traveling full time with his family was his ultimate past-time. If he’s not typing at his laptop, you can probably find him watching movies.