Low-carbon homes' failure demands 2016 rethink, says report

5 November 2010

Low carbon housing is failing to deliver the efficiency savings promised at the design stage, forcing the industry to rethink how it delivers zero carbon homes by 2016, according to a new report from Leeds Metropolitan University.

The study, commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust and reported in Building, examines the performance of the Elm Tree Mews affordable housing scheme in York, which is designed to meet 2013 carbon and energy standards, equivalent to Code for Sustainable Homes Level 4.

It found that the performance of the properties was below what was intended, with heat loss was 54% higher than designed for, solar systems suffered numerous operational problems and the ground source heat pump system under-performed.

The report’s author, Malcolm Bell, professor of surveying and sustainable housing at Leeds Metropolitan, said: “Although the government has set ambitious targets for changes to building regulatory standards, which are intended to achieve zero carbon new housing by 2016, there is considerable concern that the policy will be undermined because regulatory standards will not be achieved on the ground.”

He also warned that many prototype designs for very low and zero carbon housing do not undergo comprehensive monitoring and evaluation to check whether they have achieved their designed performance in reality.

“Detailed monitoring at Elm Tree Mews demonstrates that the gap in performance can be large and that there is a need for fundamental change within the housebuilding industry to ensure the performance gap between aspiration and reality is closed,” he added.

In related news, Government plans to upgrade the UK’s existing housing stock through its Green Deal initiative could deal an unexpected blow to landlords, reports Building.

Under new proposals for the initiative, which go before parliament next month, owner occupiers will be given access to funding to implement energy efficiency upgrades in their homes, and pay back the cost over a long period from the savings made on their energy bills.

But to force private landlords to carry out work, from 2015 the government will introduce powers allowing a tenant to demand reasonable energy efficiency improvements. It will also allow Local Authorities to insist that landlords improve their worst-performing homes.

Announcing the proposals, Energy and Climate Change secretary Chris Huhne said: “Privately rented homes have far too many leaky lofts and icy drafts. Over half a million have the lowest energy rating. The Green Deal will change this”.

The Green Deal will launch in Autumn 2012 and ministers hope that by 2020, 14 million homes and offices could be fitted with energy-saving measures. The deal will include an independent energy survey of the property and advice on the best energy efficiency options, which will be installed by a range of accredited providers.

However, amid fears that the Green Deal could become a “cowboy's charter”, the government has yet to clarify how contractors will be accredited. 

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