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Energy expert Peter Gudde calls on housebuilders to do more about energy efficiency

Whether it’s a sign of the chaotic times we are living in or something more sinister at the heart of the lobbying culture of Westminster, within 24 hours of publishing his 10 point environment plan, the Prime Minister went back on his commitment around heating new homes.

To give this some context, greenhouse gas emissions reduction from the UK’s 29 million homes have stalled, and energy use in homes, which accounts for 14 per cent of total UK emissions, have struggled to reduce in recent years. This is critical to the UK meeting its international climate change commitments.

We have the worst performing homes in Europe which, in practical terms, means we use and pay for more energy than we should irrespective of how much the fuel costs. We rely on fossil-fuels to heat our homes, mainly gas in towns and oil in the villages.

Peter Gudde (43302051)
Peter Gudde (43302051)

And we keep adding to the problem with new homes.

Some of the volume builders continue to be wedded to a construction style that leaks heat with poor design and examples of woeful build quality.

If you are planning on buying a new home, you could get bedazzled by the beautifully appointed kitchen or walk-in wet room, but when it comes down to energy efficiency it’s a hidden, sometimes forgotten part of the value of a home. The UK’s new homebuyers are short-changed by those companies who have also blocked higher standards being introduced in Parliament. We are seeing households locked into higher bills that they should be not paying if homes were better insulated or heated using more efficient technologies.

Flicking through one mass house-builder’s so-called ‘climate change position statement’ left me thinking why did they bother putting virtual pen to virtual paper? They had the gall to say that they would meet their commitment by complying with the laws on current building standards. Excuse me. On that basis, I now promise to meet my green driving commitment by not breaking the speed limit. Okay?

And they get away with it because they can and we, as consumers let them push their poor energy standards on to us which we then pay for year after year.

Another argument that has been used by this lobby against higher energy efficiency standards is that this will make the homes beyond the price of buyers. Yet, independent authoritative research shows that the additional costs of the more energy efficient standards are between 3 per cent to 5 per cent of total build costs.

Even more interesting is that the more efficient you go, the relative additional cost to build the home goes down not up. Ultra-high energy efficiency standards, installed alongside an air source heat pump, represent a 1-4 per cent uplift on build costs relative to a home built to current regulations. This is because heating systems are designed and sized according to what’s needed and if little heat is leaking out of the building, the system can be kept really small.

But a change in the way we build new homes will need three things to happen.

Firstly, the Government needs to hold its nerve and upgrade Building Regulations in the face of a strong house-builder lobby.

Secondly, it needs consumer pressure to demand higher standards.

Finally, the housing supply chain needs to change and grow; that means new skills, training and confidence in a housing market.

This home heat trilemma has to start at the top with Government but also those who make local decisions about the quality of new homes in their area should also realise that every home we connect to a fossil fuel heating system now lets the volume house builder off the hook.

This baked-in building badness will burden the homeowner with higher heating bills and require costly retrofit for zero-carbon heating system 10 years down the road.

-- Peter Gudde is an Eenergy advisor and environmental researcher

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