Environmental legislation coming into force in 2006 will put the pressure on housebuilders to cut carbon emissions. So how can you clean up your act?

About a half of all carbon dioxide emissions come from buildings and about 30% of that from the 24 million dwellings in the UK. Because of this, the government is calling on housebuilders to make a substantial commitment to cut carbon dioxide emissions from buildings in 2006, in order to meet Kyoto Protocol targets.

The EU driving energy efficiency

While the UK government is looking for developers to specify and build efficiently, the European Union is also party to the Kyoto Protocol. The European Commission's research shows that by improving energy efficiency, carbon emissions from buildings could be reduced 22%.

For the European Community to meet its Kyoto requirements it has developed the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive. Under the directive, EU countries must ensure that when any building, including housing, is constructed, sold or rented, a valid energy performance certificate is made available to

the prospective buyer or tenant. For new dwellings, the UK is ensuring compliance through the revision of Part L of the Building Regulations and the directive's implementation from April 2006.

Amendments to Part L and F

The ODPM has brought forward the changes to parts F and L of the Building Regulations, concerning ventilation and fuel conservation, from 2008 to April next year. The amendments follow the government's energy white paper which outlines methods of cutting the UK's carbon dioxide emissions 60% by 2050. In the latest revision, the changes to Part L are intended to improve the energy efficiency of new buildings by reducing their levels of carbon emissions by about 25%.

The latest revisions include a requirement for air-tightness testing of a representative sample of new buildings to ensure minimum heat loss. The amendments to Part F will complement Part L by ensuring there is adequate ventilation within the home without compromising its energy efficiency. The government estimates that amendments to the Building Regulations will improve energy standards in non-dwellings 27%, 22% in houses, and 18% in flats. It also anticipates that the changes to Part L will deliver an overall saving of 80,000 tonnes of carbon annually from new homes.

Changes to EcoHomes

The Building Research Establishment (BRE) introduced the BREEAM rating in 1990 as a method of measuring the environmental performance of buildings. The assessment specific to housing is EcoHomes, and this balances environmental performance with the need for a high quality of life and a safe and healthy internal environment.

Currently, it is compulsory to receive a "Good" EcoHomes rating for Housing Corporation developments and a "Very Good" rating for English Partnerships' developments. EcoHomes' assessors look at environment and sustainability factors including energy use, transport options, pollution, choice of materials, water use, land use, ecology and home owners' health and well-being. Each category has a weighting and contributes to the final EcoHomes' score, a "Pass" rating of 36%, a "Good" rating of 48%, a "Very Good" rating of 60% or an "Excellent" rating of 70%. EcoHomes will form the basis for the Code for Sustainable Homes which will replace it.

The drive for efficient affordable housing

For the first time since its inception, developers in the private sector have been invited to bid alongside the UK's housing associations for a share of £3.9bn available from the Housing Corporation's National Affordable Housing Programme. However, the Housing Corporation has also announced that in the 2006-2008 funding round, new homes drawing on its grants will have to achieve an EcoHomes "Very Good" rating - up from the "Good" rating, which is its current minimum requirement. This rating is expected to cover an estimated 70,000 affordable homes due to be funded in 2006-2008. The Environment Agency has issued figures suggesting that these measures will cut carbon emissions by an estimated 26%, compared with typical new-build housing. The Housing Corporation also believes that housing association tenants and private homeowners could save an average of £138 a year in utility bills on homes with a "Very Good" rating.

Code for Sustainable Homes

The Code for Sustainable Homes will become reality in 2006. From April all new residential developments receiving government funding will need to meet the code's requirements. This will impact on developers seeking Housing Corporation funding. Although the environmental rating system has yet to be finalised, the government has stated the code will cover fuel and water efficiency as well as focusing on building materials and waste reduction. The code will include practices and materials to safeguard occupants' health and well-being. A consultation document on the code was released in December, inviting comments until March.

How McCann Homes achieved an EcoHomes ‘Excellent’ score

McCann Homes’ Willows Chase development, in Milton Keynes, includes four- and five-bedroom homes and two-bedroom apartments. To achieve an “Excellent” EcoHomes score, McCann took the following measures (among others):

  • installed high-efficiency boilers and low-voltage downlights
  • fitted A-rated white goods in kitchen and a rotary drier. Flats have a drying space over baths
  • undertook sound tests to meet EcoHomes’ standards and exceed Building Regulation requirements
  • used timber from sustainable sources
  • used roofing materials and windows which achieve an A rating in the Green Guide to Housing Specification
  • fitted compact fluorescent light fittings outdoors, plus light timer sensors and recycling facilities
  • maintained the former agricultural site’s original hedgerows and made sure it was cleared outside the bird breeding season
  • enhanched the grounds through landscaping.

How Eco are your homes?

How Eco are your homes?

Developers required to achieve a “Very Good” rating or more have to plan for their homes to be pushing the limits of environmental performance. Categories to consider when looking at any EcoHomes rating include the home’s energy requirements, transport requirements, pollution, environmental implications associated with building materials used, water used, ecology and land use, and internal and external issues which might affect homeowners’ health and well-being. It is helpful to consider:

  • Dedicated energy-efficient light fittings, condensing gas boilers, the provision of white goods which are A-rated for energy efficiency, drying lines or even the use of renewable energy, such as solar hot water heating.
  • A higher score may be achieved if the development is within the vicinity of public transport and local amenities such as a food shop, post box, medical centre, primary school or pub, in a bid to reduce reliance on cars. You should check whether there are safe pedestrian routes. Consider providing cycle sheds or space for a home office.
  • Have you checked with your insulation suppliers that their products have a Global Warming Potential of less than five, to reduce the material’s effect on climate change?
  • Are the timber and timber products used for basic building elements or for finishing elements sourced from certified sources or recycled? Do the construction materials used receive an A rating in the BRE’s Green Guide to Housing Specification?
  • Are there facilities available to allow current and future homeowners to recycle their household waste?
  • Have amenities been specified to ensure reduced water consumption, including dual flush toilets, taps with flow regulators and showers with a reduced flow rate?
  • Are water butts provided to enable rainwater to be reused for irrigation of gardens and landscaped areas?
  • How can you improve the ecological value of the site? Have you had an ecological assessment? Can you protect any existing features from damage?
  • Are rooms designed to have good natural daylight, to improve quality of life and reduce the need for energy to light a home?
  • Have you undertaken pre-completion sound testing to reduce the possibility of noise complaints?