February 18th 2021

Preparing for Zero-Carbon: Future Buildings Standard Consultation Underway

Preparing for Zero-Carbon: Future Buildings Standard Consultation Underway

Last month, the UK government published its response to the Future Homes Standard consultation. The first of a 2-part consultation on Part L and Part F of the Building Regulations, this sought views on how best to improve the energy performance of new homes.

In its latest revision, the government has promised rigorous new energy efficiency standards to lower energy consumption and bills, while helping to protect the environment. They have said their plans will “radically improve the energy performance of new homes, with all homes to be highly energy efficient, with low carbon heating and be zero carbon ready by 2025.”

The great news is that, under the proposed changes, homes will be expected to produce 75-80% lower carbon emissions compared to current levels, while new homes will be expected to produce 31% lower carbon emissions from 2021.

Existing homes will also be held to higher standards – with a significant improvement on the standard for extensions, making homes warmer and reducing bills. Meanwhile replacement, repairs and parts will also be required to be more energy efficient and more stringent measures will be introduced to tackle problems with ventilation and overheating.

On the whole, this all sounds very positive. However, we know from past experience that building regulations can often be problematic (we know all too well about the “Performance Gap” by now). And while the proposed revisions to the regulations represent a positive step towards reducing the impact our built environment has on climate change, there is still concern across the industry that the proposed changes may not go far enough. 

Responding to the consultation, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) have argued the case for tighter regulation around operational energy and embodied carbon. RIBA President, Professor Alan M Jones, commented: 

“The proposed changes to building regulations are simply not ambitious enough to meet the scale of our environmental challenge. If we are to stand a chance of meeting net zero by 2050, the Government must urgently embed much clearer and more demanding targets on operational energy and embodied carbon into building regulations.

They must also crack down on loopholes which are exploited by developers to build new homes according to regulations from the time they first broke ground – often years out of date.“

Many have also argued that the pace of change will be too slow in terms of what is required for the UK to realistically achieve its 2050 net-zero target, with Julie Hirigoyen, Chief Executive of the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC), stating:

“We are pleased to see confirmation that the Future Homes Standard will mean new homes will have carbon dioxide emissions 75-80 per cent lower than those built to the current Building Regulations – though it’s regrettable that the standard won’t be implemented till 2025, despite it being widely trailed that it would be brought forward to 2023.” 

This view was echoed by Nigel Banks, Director of Specialist Projects at ilke Homes, who stated that: “the timetable for implementation is too slow meaning over a million new homes built between now and 2026 will need to be retrofit in the 2030s.”

The subject of retrofitting raises another crucial point. With estimates that between 80-90% of the building stock that will be in use by 2050 has already been built, the biggest challenge will lie in bringing these existing buildings in line with the new net-zero standards. The enormity of this task should not be underestimated, a point which was emphasised by Alan Fogarty, Partner at Cundall, who stated that: 

“We need to be retrofitting 20,000 homes per week to meet net zero carbon energy standards, and at the moment there is no standard in place for how that should be achieved.”

The positive news is that we, as an industry, already have the know-how and the tools to go far beyond what current standards require from us to drive the net-zero ambition forward. If you saw our recent guest blog from Mesh Energy, you will have read first-hand how many in our industry are already going above and beyond. Rising to the challenge of non-mandatory schemes, such as the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge, which places an onus on achieving significant reductions in operational energy, embodied carbon and potable water use, while also prioritising occupant health and wellbeing. We also have numerous case study examples to demonstrate how our software users are already pushing the boundaries with our technology to help bring their ambitious net-zero projects to fruition. And as our capabilities continue to grow across our entire suite of digital twin technology, we are continually expanding our impact across the built environment.

Time is not on our side, and while the proposed changes to the regulations are very much welcomed, there are undoubtedly areas that still need further consideration. An intelligent approach that helps drive our industry forward in the decarbonisation journey must take into consideration all operational energy uses within a building and deal with these in an integrated manner, while also taking account of embodied carbon impacts. This is the only way we can ensure that truly smart design choices and retrofit investments are made to improve our buildings and return more positive outcomes in the long-term.

We know we won’t solve the climate emergency simply through compliance tick boxing alone. However, through our continued collective efforts, and with the right processes and technologies in place, we will give ourselves the best chance of mitigating the climate impact of our built environment before it is too late, or too costly, to rectify. 

The consultation period for the next update to the regulations for non-domestic buildings in England will close on 13th April 2021. The official consultation document can be viewed here.

As it is a consultation period nothing is finalised but IES will as ever strive to have our own software approved in time for the "go live" date, whenever that will be. For more information on some of the proposed changes you can find further details on the IES Forum.