Green homes will be the norm by 2040
Improving the environmental efficiency of the homes within our cities has been a long-standing ambition amongst campaigners. Historically, the green homes’ agenda has been driven by national and local regulation, as was evidenced with the 1976 Building Regulations Part L, whose primary concern is homes’ energy efficiency; while the Greater London Authority stipulated in 2016 that it expected all homes under its watch to be zero carbon.
Domestic homes currently account for 29% of all of the UK’s annual energy consumption, so are a key real estate use to target, reducing our use of power and fuel in, if we are to meet our environmental targets and achieve energy conservation.
Figure 1: Final energy consumption by sector, and domestic energy consumption by use, 2016
Source: Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS): Energy Consumption in the UK (2016)
Regulation will continue to be an important driver of change, especially since Brexit legislation will import all European environmental law into UK law at the point of exit. The World Green Building Council have set a target of 100% net zero carbon buildings by 2050, with all new buildings operating at zero carbon by 2030. Net zero energy means all energy consumed by the building will be equal to the amount of renewable energy created on site or off site via the National Grid. If UK cities fall in line, by 2040 all new buildings are likely to be completely self-sufficient in energy.
To enable this, the use of passive design features will need to be optimised. Passivhaus design focussing on the size, shapes and orientation of a home, air-tightness and natural ventilation will play a part in reducing annual emissions. Although currently a niche market, these features will gradually find their way into mainstream housing, in addition homes will be able to generate their own power through solar panels or fuel cell technology.
As we wrote in our recent report on sustainability in the residential sector, there are now other drivers for change. The industry is increasingly independently recognising the benefits of “going green” both from an environmental and financial perspective. In this sense it has overtaken the regulatory requirement. Current trends are shifting to have the end user’s wellbeing as the focus of design through “well certification”. In addition, biophilic design, the integration of plants into buildings, has been used more commonly in offices, and is now seeping into residential. This design concept aims to help promote thermal comfort and optimize air quality for the users, which will become increasingly important given rising temperatures.
Figure 2: Bristol, green capital of the UK?
As we write elsewhere, smart technology will also have a role to play, enabling occupants to respond in real time to their energy consumption, understand when this is at its highest cost and shift their usage to lower-cost periods. The smart grid will be used to divert surplus energy generated in one home to other users in the community.
These technological advancements combined with the continued focus on wellbeing, hold out the prospect that by 2040, both new and existing homes in UK cities will be significantly greener than they are now.