Not only is the controversial Code for Sustainable Homes a watered-down version of BRE’s EcoHomes scheme, but it will have to be revised in about three years …

It’s taken more than a year to finalise the Code for Sustainable Buildings. Was it worth it?

The inspiration for the code came from the BRE’s EcoHomes rating scheme. This covered not only the environmental impact of a building but also issues including proximity to local transport and whether the development was on brownfield land. However, the new code is restricted to the building itself. Essentially it is an environmental checklist; wider issues are transferred to the Sustainable Development Checklists that the WWF and ODPM are drawing up.

But there is a bigger problem. The code may only have just been agreed but it will have to be revised in three to four years’ time. That’s because while we have been working out our national standards, Europe has been doing the same. This is all part of the European commission’s attempt to break down barriers to trade – in this case, trade in intellectual services such as design and consultancy.

The government has admitted as much in appendix A of the code consultation document. The appendix gives information on a suite of standards being developed by the European Committee for Standardisation. The government says it will need to ensure the code is revised to conform with these agreed standards.

The standards will use existing European and International norms for declaring the environmental performance of products and activities – for example, the ISO 14020 series.

So what future is there for the code? One could argue that it will not so much be revised in 2008/09 as killed off in favour of the European standards. The code is also the last hurrah for EcoHomes in its present state before it, too, disappears beneath the advance of said European standards. Of course as the BRE is on the standards committees, it would be very surprising if the standards were totally unlike EcoHomes.

How the code works

The code assesses dwellings by awarding marks for a number of criteria, up to a maximum of 100. These scores are then put into bands, ranging from level one (the basic) to level five (the best). There are six criteria that all dwellings have to be judged on and a further six voluntary ones.

Essential elements

  • Energy efficiency – as in Building Regulations Part L1A 2006
  • Water efficiency no greater than 125 l per head per day
  • Surface water management
  • Site waste management
  • Site waste management plans (including monitoring of waste) and household waste
  • Use of materials

Proposed optional elements

  • Lifetime Homes sets out criteria for ensuring house can continue to be used by old and disabled people
  • Security
  • Soundproofing
  • Private external space
  • Daylighting
  • Home user guide

There is trade off between elements to allow designers to choose how to reach levels two to five. Level one requires 30 marks out of 100, level two requires 45, level three requires 60 (like EcoHomes’ “very good” standard), level four requires 70 and level five requires 80. Level five homes must also be zero carbon, which will mean a significant use of technologies such as solar and wind power.

Looking ahead …

English Partnerships is working on a software tool to catalogue and map all the standards that apply to buildings and development. Demonstrated at the recent Building a Sustainable Future conference, the listing of requirements from myriad stakeholders over and above Building Regulations is salutary.

Just a selection includes Building for Life, PPG3, Inclusive Design, Integrated Tenure, EcoHomes, Secure by Design, MMC, Lifetime Homes, Green Guide to Materials, NHER and Fire Prevention.

And of course the latest addition is the Code for Sustainable Homes.