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The Future of Zero Carbon Housing – To Build, or not to Build?

June 22, 2016

When the Government scrapped its targets for sustainable housing, many considered the move to be the death knell for a green future in house building.


Plans to make all new homes zero carbon from 2016 and introduce tighter standards were abandoned last summer amid concerns about ‘barriers’ to the building of new homes.

More than 200 construction and renewable energy businesses disagreed, signing an open letter which stated:

“There was a broad consensus in support of the zero carbon policy, which was designed to give industry the confidence it needs to invest and innovate.”

The announcement came just as the first low-cost energy-positive house was unveiled. The SOLCER House, designed by teams at Cardiff and Swansea universities, won an ‘Innovation in Sustainability’ award.

This zero carbon smart home costs around £120,000 (around £1,000 per sqm) to build and innovations include:

  • £175 generated in energy for every £100 spent on its own electricity use
  • thermal and electrical energy collected and stored
  • an in-built photo voltaic roof system
  • high levels of insulation, hot water storage and low-carbon cement
  • high-tech wall panels that store external heat from the air.

“This house shifts the game as we’ve shown it is a cost-effective way to provide clean and secure energy. All of the components are commercially available so there are no real skill barriers to making these houses. The whole point of it was to build something that can be replicated.” Keith Bygate, Head of Specific research centre, 2015.

Rather than wait for a government response, the industry has got on with striking significant sustainable housing deals.

A partnership between Welink, British Solar Renewables and China National Building Materials will see £800m invested in 8,000 sustainable housing units for the UK market. The zero carbon buildings will be constructed with zero water usage and zero waste, and use roof-top solar and waste-to-energy technologies.

“Instead of actively supporting zero carbon homes such as these, the Government has removed the regulations that would ensure that all new homes are built in this way. The REA now looks to the Government to reinstate the zero carbon homes policy to take the lead and ensure more affordable green homes are built.” Dr Nina Skorupska, CBE, Chief Executive of the Renewable Energy Association, 2016.

Meanwhile, the UK’s leading building science centre, BRE, is continuing to promote its Home Quality Mark as a national standard for new homes. It’s a scheme builders can use as a differentiator in the marketplace, and which home buyers will find appealing as an independent guarantee of sustainability.

Homes are assessed on a wide range of criteria including:

  • energy and water efficiency
  • insulation
  • noise reduction
  • air quality
  • carbon reduction
  • climate change
  • wellbeing of occupants

The case for zero carbon housing is borne out in compelling research conducted by Redrow on consumer attitudes to sustainable housing. The house builder found that 63% of potential homebuyers want to own a more environmentally friendly home, and 82% are willing to pay more for one. Lower energy bills were considered more important than a garden, parking or external appeal.

Nearly two thirds (65%) of respondents thought an eco home would save them money and 62% said it would be more comfortable living in one, with 78% agreeing the purchase of sustainable housing would have a positive impact on the environment.

There is some way to go on awareness, as a quarter of respondents felt it would be difficult to buy a sustainable home and half weren’t sure how sustainable features work.

Industry commentators may well point back to poor policy decisions at government level.

The Climate Change Act still requires an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050.

It would seem that despite the current political agenda on sustainable housing, the demand is there. With consumers declaring an interest in eco homes and, more significantly, being prepared to pay more for one, we may well see more deals like the £800m partnership with China National Building Materials being given the green light.


  • Consumers are willing to pay more for eco homes.
  • Consumers have expressed confusion over how to buy a sustainable home.
  • Major deals are being struck despite policy decisions.
  • The BRE is promoting continued uptake of the Home Quality Mark.
  • Sustainable housing can be low-cost.

Find out more about regional areas of growth in the housing sector. Download: Regional Housing Markets in 2016 – The Impact of Stamp Duty Changes

Regional Housing Markets in 2016: the Impact of Stamp Duty Changes

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