16 RCI 0714

RCI JULY 2014

ME COLUMN Since it came into power, the Coalition has maintained that it is committed to meeting the 2016 Zero Carbon Home standard, which was first agreed by the last Labour government in 2006. The construction industry was given ten years to prepare for the change but as the deadline draws closer, the government has grown increasingly concerned about the cost implications of making new homes zero carbon in their entirety. Already considerably watered down from the original policy intention, the latest changes announced in the Queen’s Speech in June have sparked lively industry debate because of the heavy emphasis on offsets and exemptions in order to meet the zero carbon target. The changes announced in the Infrastructure Bill include moves to lessen the regulatory burden on house-builders by making small developments exempt from the Zero Carbon Home standard when it is introduced in 2016. While the government has yet to explain how it will define small sites, it has promised a consultation in the near future. There has been media speculation that 50 homes or less could be the definition of a smaller development, after a spokesperson for the Home Builders Federation said this would be a good starting point for the exemption debate. Under this definition, as many as a third of new homes would be exempt from hitting the full Zero Carbon Home standard. This seems to be at odds with one of the main aims of the Infrastructure Bill, which is to enable all new homes to be built to a zero carbon standard. Clarity is needed quickly on what constitutes a small development – is it ten or fifty homes? Otherwise it could delay the process rather than speed things up if there is uncertainty over whether sites will need to meet the Zero Carbon Home standard or not. Also, there needs to be clear rules to ensure that large developments will not be broken down into smaller sites to achieve exemption. Alongside this change, the government also confirmed it will introduce a carbon offsetting scheme called Allowable Solutions, which will enable house-builders to meet the Zero Carbon Home standard by funding off-site projects, such as renewable energy schemes. The Zero Carbon Home standard will be set at Level 5 of the Code for Sustainable Homes but the legislation will allow developers to build to Level 4, as long as 016 JULY 2014 RCIMAG.COM Not quite zero carbon homes Up to a third of homes could be exempt from the 2016 zero carbon target under changes announced in the Queen’s Speech. Gavin White, product manager at Marley Eternit, discusses the ‘watering down’ of zero carbon in the new Infrastructure Bill and what impact this could have on low carbon building in the UK they offset the rest of the carbon emissions through the Allowable Solutions scheme. We recognise that it is not always technically feasible or cost effective for house-builders to mitigate all emissions on site and Allowable Solutions will help generate revenue for local renewable energy schemes. However, a significant proportion of homes are already built to this level, in fact up to the end of March 2014, 28% of homes that received a rating under the Code for Sustainable Homes were Code Level 4. Therefore, does this latest move send a message that those house-builders don’t need to do any more and is there a risk that it will prevent further improvements in low carbon housebuilding? Also, what is the incentive for manufacturers to further improve the sustainability of their products? The Infrastructure Bill appears to focus on how we are going to meet the target, rather than sticking to the original purpose of giving homeowners lower energy bills. In fact, the Solar Trade Association (STA) calculates that a typical ‘true’ Zero Carbon Home, in the original definition, would have an annual energy bill of just £293, this increased to £692 based on the relaxations announced in the 2011 Budget and estimates are that this figure will increase to £802 based on the changes announced in the Queen’s Speech. Operational AND embodied energy So are we really going to see zero carbon homes in 2016? Not quite. According to the Renewable Energy Association, builders will now only need to eliminate about a third of a home’s emissions (15kg) using energy efficiency and on-site renewables. They’ve been exempt from the third that came from plug in appliances like TVs and kettles already (also 15kg) and now these latest changes mean they can offset the remaining third, which may benefit wider renewable energy efficiency initiatives but does little to help the homeowner with their bills. The government is also taking away local authority powers to set higher energy efficiency standards for new homes – called the Merton Rule. Yet none of this even considers the embodied energy that is already contained within the building after construction. The government’s zero carbon measures so far have focussed on reducing the operational energy of a building but many experts believe that it is missing a critical Gavin White, Marley Eternit: “Clarity is needed quickly on what constitutes a small development – is it ten or fifty homes? Otherwise it could delay the process rather than speed things up if there is uncertainty over whether sites will need to meet the Zero Carbon Home standard or not” piece of the carbon puzzle. More than one third (36%) of the carbon produced by a home over its lifetime is emitted as embodied carbon before the building is even occupied and yet there are currently no measures to reduce this. Embodied carbon (CO²e) covers all greenhouse gas emissions that arise from the energy and industrial processes used in the sourcing, manufacture and delivery of the materials and products required to construct a building. While the Code for Sustainable Homes does encourage the use of products with the best environmental rating, there is currently no mandatory requirement for house-builders to provide embodied carbon information. Although some already require this information from suppliers and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors is currently lobbying government for compulsory embodied carbon monitoring. There have already been proposals by the Zero Carbon Hub for embodied carbon reduction initiatives to count as an Allowable Solution. This is certainly one way to encourage low carbon building above and beyond the Code Level 4 requirements. If the government would allow house-builders to demonstrate reductions in embodied carbon as an Allowable Solution, this could be used as a carbon offsetting measure to help improve a home from Code Level 4 to Level 5. This would encourage manufacturers to invest in sustainable products and reduce the energy they use, while also driving improvement in low carbon building. If the government’s purpose is to achieve more sustainable buildings, then surely there must be a middle ground that still improves housing supply but does include some low carbon standards for smaller house-builders, and incentivises embodied carbon reduction as a way of offsetting for larger developments. www.marleyeternit.co.uk


RCI JULY 2014
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