Net-zero carbon homes: Why bother?

10 Feb 2021

Net-zero carbon homes: Why bother?

Both new and existing homes account for around 20% of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. 21 million homes in the UK are currently below EPC rating C (Carbon Brief, 2019).

In June last year, the UK passed net-zero emissions target into law which requires the UK to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. Since then, the Future Homes Standard Consultation confirmed all new homes would be required to be highly energy efficient, with low carbon heating and be zero carbon ready by 2025, which means these homes are expected to produce 75-80% less carbon emissions compared to current levels. Gas boilers will be banned from 2023 and there is talk of the gas network being switched off by 2050.

So, why bother worrying. We have a few years, don’t we?

Simply put, no. The new homes that we are constructing now and in the next few years are homes that will exist in 2050. There is a looming legislative and statutory requirement to deliver net-zero carbon homes. The building regulations are changing, and we need to engage and up-skill now. We’ve previously discussed how we are starting to make design decisions so we meet 75-80% carbon reduction in the next 18 months or so.

We are making changes because we want to, and we see a social and ethical responsibility. As designers, architects, built environment and construction professionals, we should all be consciously making decisions that help push us towards achieving a net-zero carbon future.

The science is pretty clear – keeping warming to 1.5°C reduces the risks of severe climate impacts, some of which may be irreversible. The 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report estimates significant differences in the impact of warming at 1.5 °C compared to 2 °C. Every half-a-degree matters – the 0.5°C difference between 1.5 and 2°C can lead to irreversible impacts, such as loss of ecosystems and the extinction of some species. The difference between a world with some coral reefs and Arctic summer sea ice to one without.

One area we can immediately and locally improve with NZC houses is the issue of fuel poverty. Fuel poverty can cause or worsen many common physical and mental health problems. This is a very clear benefit to affordable housing tenants that is felt as soon as they move in. For our NZC work with Royal Borough of Greenwich, direct delivery affordable housing, a key driver was that energy bills per household were less than £200 per year.

There’s a lot to be done by a lot of people all over the world. But cliché as it sounds, every action helps. Given that one of the main drivers of fuel poverty is fuel-inefficient housing, the wider social and ethical obligations of all professionals concerned, is to push for a change. We are in a privileged position to be able to make a difference, so let’s do it.