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Poor energy efficiency of homes damaging efforts to tackle climate change

Words: Laura Edgar
Energy efficient homes / iStock-901093568

The government should legislate for the Future Homes Standard by 2022 ‘at the very latest’ to guarantee that by 2025 no more homes are built that need to be retrofitted to make them more energy efficient.

This is one of the recommendations in a report by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee.

It wants the government to consider what policy drivers it has at its disposal to drive early uptake at of the Future Homes Standard. At a minimum, the report says, the government should put in place a compulsory learning period from 2022 in a subset of properties in preparation for full-scale deployment and oblige large housebuilders to undertake regional demonstration projects to show how they will achieve the standard.

The report finds that the government “stands no chance” of meeting its emission reduction targets unless it tackles its failing energy efficiency policy and builders are compelled to deliver the latest energy efficiency standards.

The report follows another published last week by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which concluded that action to curb greenhouse gas emission is “lagging far behind” what is required to meet the previous target, let alone for the target for the UK to be producing net-zero emissions by 2050.

MPs say that energy efficiency is the cheapest way of reducing carbon emissions but public investment has shrunk while insulation measures installed in houses under government schemes is around 95 per cent lower than in 2012. This investment gap needs filling and funding allocated for energy efficiency if the government is to achieve its climate and fuel poverty targets.

Further, the report states “it is unacceptable that new developments are not always built to the latest building standards”. For the committee, the classification of what counts as a commenced building project is too lax, which provides developers with a loophole that allows them to claim a project is too far advanced to meet changes to building regulations. This means a substantial number of new homes are being built to outdated standards.

The committee suggests that the government “urgently” close this loophole and the government should ensure the most recent building standards are complied with.

Rachel Reeves, chair of the BEIS Committee, said: “Improving energy efficiency is by far the cheapest way of cutting our emissions and must be a key plank of any credible strategy to deliver net zero by 2050. If the government lacks the political will to deliver energy efficiency improvements, how can we expect it to get on with the costlier actions needed to tackle climate change? More energy efficient buildings are not only crucial for tackling climate change but are vital for lowering customers’ energy bills and lifting people out of fuel poverty. Despite a consensus on what needs to be done, ministers have continued to sit on their hands and failed to deliver the policies needed to boost energy efficiency.

"The government needs to commit to investing in schemes to ensure all buildings are brought up to the highest energy efficiency standards. The government has failed to close loopholes in regulations that allow builders to develop to outdated standards and also enabled builders to sell homes that do not meet the standards advertised.”

The report also recommends:

  • The government ensures the ‘as built’ performance of homes is better monitored. The government should incentivise the voluntary take up of ‘as built’ testing while it puts in place a suitable framework for this to become mandatory.
  • The government requires housebuilders to provide the information used for the Standard Assessment Procedure calculation to the purchaser. Should this be incorrect there is then a ‘risk of discovery’ and the housebuilder would be open to a legal claim through existing routes.
  • In the upcoming review of building regulations, the inclusion of an equivalent energy efficiency standard for the development of commercial buildings, not just homes should be included. By 2025, no new commercial buildings should be built that will require energy efficiency retrofits.
  • The government should act with urgency to agree a trajectory and strategy for the social housing minimum standards. It should carefully considers the recommendation of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) to allocate £3.8 billion to social housing between now and 2030. If the government does not accept this recommendation, it should clearly set out in its response to the NIC an alternative approach to upgrading this tenure. Once the government puts a delivery mechanism in place for the social housing tenure, we recommend that social landlords are required to have a 30-year plan showing how they will manage their stock to ensure the tenure is aligned with the UK’s climate obligations.

John Alker, director of policy and places at the UK Green Building Council, pointed out that this is the second report in less that week that highlights the "inadequacies of government policy in addressing carbon emissions from buildings". The committee point out the irony that improving energy efficiency in buildings is one of the cheapest ways of meeting our legally binding carbon targets, which creates huge health and economic benefits. And yet policy is still falling well short of the mark.

“The good news is that there are clear and immediate opportunities for government to address this failure. Most obviously by driving better energy performance in new housing in the imminent update to Building Regulations, and using the Comprehensive Spending Review to kick start much-needed investment in our inefficient existing stock. Without urgent policy action, achieving net zero for buildings will only become more difficult and far more expensive.”

Energy Efficiency: Building Towards Net Zero can be found on the UK Parliament website (pdf).

Read more:

UK climate action ‘lagging behind’

Image credit | iStock