Environment

New homes must produce 30% less carbon from next month - but experts fear scheme won't work

Not only will carbon savings not be as big as stated, builders aren't even ready for the change, according to the Home Builders Federation.

The emissions reductions don't include embodied carbon, the government has said. Image: Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

Solar panels, heat pumps and insulation are set to become more common from next month when new rules will require all new homes in England to produce 30 per cent less carbon dioxide.

The changes mean developers have to make homes more sustainable to run – but experts say they don’t go far enough and won’t cover the carbon emissions produced during construction – known as “embodied carbon”.

Their comments come as MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee [EAC] urge the government to introduce mandatory “whole-life carbon assessments” for buildings which take embodied carbon into account.

The new “interim uplift” rules form part of the government’s “Future Homes Standard” policy, which will update the building regulations to ensure new homes are built to high efficiency standards, lowering carbon emissions and keeping people cool in the summer and warm in the winter. 

The Future Homes Standard, which promises to lower carbon emissions in new homes by between 75 to 80 per cent, won’t come into effect until 2025. Until then, the interim uplift rule will be used, starting in June.

The government has conceded, however, the 30 per cent reduction won’t include embodied carbon, which is created by the materials and transportation involved in the construction of a new building. 

Instead, it will only cover the emissions produced as a result of using the building, such as lighting and heating.

“We encourage developers to take the embodied carbon of new developments into account and are exploring the potential of a maximum embodied carbon level for new buildings in the future,” a government spokesperson said. 

Ciaran Malik of the Architects Climate Action Network (ACAN) said it was “poor” that embodied carbon hadn’t been accounted for in the new regulations.

According to Malik, embodied carbon can account for around 50 per cent of all the carbon produced by a home in its lifetime.

“It depends on the type of building, but that means the real reduction [from the interim uplift] could be more like 15 per cent,” he said. 

The current consultation on the Future Homes Standard doesn’t mention embodied carbon. If it is not included in the final policy, this means that true carbon reductions could be as low as 37.5 per cent. 

Currently there is no national regulation of embodied carbon in the building industry, though some councils and developers do their own assessments voluntarily.

Ahead of the new regulations, MPs on the EAC have warned embodied carbon must be regulated if the government is to meet its net zero target

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Aside from concerns about carbon reductions, building experts have also warned the industry isn’t  properly equipped to implement the new regulations from June.

According to Steve Turner of the Home Builders Federation, (HBF) software known as “SAP” which developers need to check whether housing designs comply with regulations is still not ready for use, just weeks away from the new rules coming into force. 

Writing to the Department of Business and Industrial Strategy in a letter shared with The Big Issue, Turner wrote: “Following my letter in which I raised HBF members’ concerns regarding the essential timely introduction of SAP software in advance of important Building Regulations changes, I am contacting you again to express the industry’s frustration and disappointment that the Government has been unable to achieve what [is] necessary.”

Responding to these comments, a government spokesperson said: “The improved Building Regulations will ensure that new homes release 30 per cent less carbon than current standards, and are a stepping stone to our Future Homes Standard 2025 which will deliver zero carbon ready homes.”

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