It’s a phrase that has gone unmentioned in the halls of Westminster for four years now, but all of a sudden the silence has been broken… ‘Zero Carbon Homes’ is back.
Last week the Secretary of State for Housing, Robert Jenrick, said ‘I want to see zero carbon homes being built as the standard within five years…’
This line came out of the blue. He wasn’t making a speech about energy efficiency or sustainability. He was addressing the awkwardly named Building Better Building Beautiful Commission (BBBBBBBC) about how new developments shouldn’t look ugly, about how new streets should be lined with trees, and about how our planning system needs a good shake-up.
The ZCH words carry a lot of weight politically. It was England’s ambition to set a zero carbon standard for all new homes from 2016, and all non-residential buildings from 2019. Now we’re in 2020 and not only are we not building to a zero carbon homes standard, but we’re still building to the same efficiency targets as were in place when the ZCH policy was scrapped in 2015.
Since then, various Housing Ministers, Secretaries of State and Prime Ministers have avoided the topic like a hot potato. On one side they know it wins green points, but on the other side the construction industry isn’t ready to make the drastic adjustments needed to make zero carbon mainstream.
So does Jenrick know something we don’t, or was this a throwaway remark that we’re supposed to brush under the carpet?
The concept may not be as far-fetched now as it was a few years back…
In 2016 we never had a true definition for what a ‘Zero Carbon Home’ really was. Goalposts kept moving and eventually were removed completely. Last year the UK Green Building Control released their own ZCH definition, although they were first to admit it doesn’t consider the full material life cycle.
Around the same time the Commission for Climate Change recommended the government should phase out gas boilers in new homes by 2025, and connect 90% of all homes to heat pumps, hydrogen or other low carbon heat source by 2035.
At the time this felt like an extreme green campaign that would go into the Westminster inbox and never be seen again. Yet here we are twelve months on with the knowledge that building regulations is soon to jump away from gas boilers in favour of heat pumps.
We know the Government is planning to make some serious sustainability commitments in the next year or so with a step-change to Building Regulations that will lead to homes using far less energy.
This is being managed through the Future Homes Standard which, in it’s opening pages, says homes built in five years time will need 80% less energy than a house built today, and also lists heat pumps as a key example to achieving compliance with future energy targets.
Jenrick’s one-liner may be without weight or evidence but it is certainly noteworthy. We won’t know the Government’s true commitment to low energy housing until we receive the final text to the Future Homes Standard and see how Part L and Part F of Building Regulations are going to be shaped for the coming years.
Talk about Zero Carbon Homes may, as has happened before, fizzle into nothing. Or it could be an indication of some very ambitious targets in the years ahead.