Cost model: Net zero homes

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As net zero carbon becomes a guiding principle across all new buildings but with so many design and construction issues yet to be solved or standardised, creating housing stock is a challenge, explains Aecom’s Rob Mills

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Source: Jack Hobhouse

North West Cambridge is the UK’s largest Code for Sustainable Homes level 5 development. It features sustainable water management, energy and waste systems and a green travel plan

01 / Introduction

The built environment is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for an estimated 49% of the UK’s total output. Nevertheless, new homes must be built. The UK already faces a well-documented shortage of housing in some of its busiest cities, concentrated in places like London, Brighton, Edinburgh, Bristol and York. Looking ahead, the UK population is projected to grow by 5.35 million people to reach 72 million by 2041. The government wants 300,000 homes built each year to meet this demand but construction is falling far short of this goal.

The industry is tasked with meeting the dual challenge of delivering new residential buildings while reducing carbon output to neutral levels, in order to fulfil the UK’s legal requirement of producing net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Building homes to net zero standards will therefore be critical to providing much-needed housing stock while keeping the sector’s carbon emissions to a minimum.

As yet, there are very few completed net zero carbon housing developments of significant commercial value and scale to use as standard-bearers and templates for future projects. Existing low or zero carbon developments tend to be one-off experiments, such as small projects built to Passivhaus standards.

The industry is at a unique point in time where we know we must provide net zero developments in order for the construction sector to meet regulatory requirements and keep up with the rest of the country’s efforts to decarbonise; yet a single or an agreed set of over-arching guidance, principles and rules for creating net zero homes has not yet been fully established. Perhaps most importantly, if net zero buildings cannot be made affordable – at least not right now, at this early, experimental stage – then we also need to consider what the premium is on delivering these projects.

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