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Future Homes 2025 – A New Standard for Energy Efficient Homes

June 2024 by Alice Henderson

Image credit: Matt Seymour via Unsplash

The housing industry in the UK is facing a series of profound challenges, with headlines warning of a desperate need to build more high-quality, sustainable and affordable homes.

The decarbonisation of existing and new homes is a key strategic challenge which must be addressed in the context of the wider housing crisis.

Residential housing currently accounts for around 16% of the UK’s total carbon emissions. The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has made it clear that these emissions must be completely eliminated from housing for the UK to meet net zero by 2050.

Whilst retrofitting existing properties to implement greener technologies and encouraging behavioural changes within the home are both hugely important elements on the UK’s journey to net zero, it is also critical that there is a clear framework in place for new homes to be designed and built with energy efficiency and decarbonisation at the forefront.

 

What is the Future Homes Standard?

From 2025, the Government is introducing a new Future Homes Standard (FHS) which all new homes must meet. The FHS will contain several detailed elements but focuses on improving heating and hot water systems and reducing heat waste.

Measures proposed include enhanced building materials and glazing standards and low-carbon heating technologies such as Air Source Heat Pumps (ASHPs).

The overarching aim of the FHS is to reduce carbon emissions from the residential building sector by 75%-80%.

 

What has already happened?

The UK Government uplifted its Building Regulations back in 2021 to introduce more stringent energy efficiency standards. This was intended to improve the energy efficiency of homes before the FHS being rolled out.

A consultation on the latest draft FHS was undertaken between December 2023 and March 2024. This set out the proposed technical standards required to meet the FHS through changes to Building Regulations Part L (conservation of fuel and power) and Part O (ventilation).

 

Response to the FHS so far…

The FHS, as currently proposed, has been criticised by various green groups and energy and sustainability experts including the UK Green Building Council (GBC) who consider that the proposed measures simply do not go far enough.

The FHS only requires all new homes to be ‘zero carbon ready’ however achieving true net-zero is reliant on the decarbonisation of the electricity grid which may not occur until 2035 at the earliest. This fails to meet the recommendation of the CCC that all homes should be net zero by 2025.

Other notable concerns with the FHS are the omission of solar panels, a lowering of ventilation and building fabric standards and too strong a focus on minimising upfront capital costs for developers rather than prioritising occupants’ fuel bills.

In addition, the FHS does not address embodied carbon, the carbon emissions generated from the production and transportation of building materials, the construction process and maintenance of a building. Embodied carbon is a huge contributor to the whole life carbon of a building and therefore must be addressed. Whilst the Government has expressed an intention to consult on its approach to measuring and reducing embodied carbon, it is not currently known when this will take place and how it will sit alongside the FHS.

There are also wider concerns from the development industry about the complexity of the new FHS and how it will be applied to existing projects. Several commentators are calling for more assistance in navigating these regulations to try and mitigate delays and risks to the financial viability of developments.

 

What’s next for the FHS?

The consultation on the FHS closed back in March and whilst all available sources refer to it being implemented in 2025, the Government has not yet released a response to the consultation or confirmed exactly what the final technical details will be. It is also understood that there will be either a six or 12-month transitional period between the laying date of the regulations and publication of the full technical specification and the regulations coming into force, to allow time for the industry to adapt.

Despite its drawbacks, the overall intention of the FHS is undeniably positive in that it will be a mandatory, national requirement to improve energy efficiency and vastly cut the carbon emissions of new homes. In particular, the phasing out of gas boilers in favour of greener technologies such as ASHPs is a hugely important step in the right direction towards a zero-carbon future. However, the Government must ensure the FHS is sufficient to meet net-zero targets and support housing developers, local authorities and other built environment professionals in the transition towards net zero.

Carbon Literacy training for Social Housing focuses on what housing organisations, tenants and communities can do in their roles to reduce carbon emissions, whether that be in the workplace, at home or in the community. Find out more about Carbon Literacy for Social Housing.

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