Liblink: Stephen Williams on zero carbon homes by 2016

Stephen Williams MPThe Queen’s speech tomorrow will include a Lib Dem commitment to make every new home built in England from 2016 zero carbon. As Stephen Williams says:

This was one of Nick’s earliest environmental priorities and it has taken the combined guile and will power of Sir Andrew Stunell, Don Foster and myself as well as Nick’s dogged determination to make it a reality.

He explains:

We built 112,630 homes last year in the United Kingdom and all three major parties have committed to increasing that number dramatically (indeed Liberal Democrats intend to more than double it). The average home built to current standards in the United Kingdom releases 1.5  tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere per year. Given these two statistics it is obvious that housing can play a major contributory factor to the generation of carbon in the UK, damaging our environment.

The type of homes that emit 1.5 tonnes of carbon aren’t rickety, they are referred to in the industry as “code 3” and they already have insulation, double glazing and an efficient boiler. From 2016 new homes in England will be built to a much higher standard, they will be “code 4” and have new features such as triple glazing, extra insulation and perhaps even renewable technology like solar panels, dramatically reducing the carbon they emit, not just during construction but throughout their lifetime. This will save residents at least £200, but given the lifetime of average houses it is likely to be much more. Of the 112,630 homes built last year a mere 12,459 meet the standard we have announced today so this is a massive leap forward in terms of environmentally friendlier housing.

Each new home will be cheaper and cleaner. Not bad for a days work. But we are going even further; we are setting the Zero Carbon standard one level up form that up to “code 5”. This means that from 2016 each new house will make no net contribution to carbon in the environment either during construction or throughout its lifetime, including that which may be generated through heating and lighting or fixed building services.

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  • Richard Harris 3rd Jun '14 - 10:47pm

    This article is a bit light on detail…you say it will save the average resident £200 – is that per year? And is that the same for an owner-occupier who presumably will have to pay for the triple glazing, etc. that the new standard demands.

    Whilst I applaud the idea (bold ideas are what we need in politics) I am now far too cautious of Lib Dem promises for it to influence my vote, especially as this policy is set to be implemented just AFTER an election, rather than just before.

  • James Pickett 4th Jun '14 - 10:06am

    I’ve often wondered how a ‘zero-carbon’ (presumably meaning zero carbon dioxide, which is a different substance) is made? It would mean no cement or concrete or bricks or tiles or glass, all of which require large amounts of energy to create, and planting trees to ‘offset’ the CO2 only sequesters it while the tree is alive – it all gets returned to the atmosphere later! Since CO2 is still less than 0.05% of the atmosphere and is the result, rather than the cause, of warming, isn’t this all a bit overblown?

  • James Pickett 4th Jun '14 - 10:10am

    That should have been ‘zero-carbon house’ of course. Oops.

  • Very light on detail.

    If we’re talking about the Code for Sustainable Homes, then technically Code 6 not Code 5 is the level that is ‘zero carbon’. Code 5 is 100% energy efficient but Code 6 generates all its energy needs on site.

    However, I thought the Code was being scrapped anyway next year?

  • Phillip Bratby 4th Jun '14 - 10:21am

    I love my carbon dioxide (what is all this carbon we emit?). It makes my garden and trees grow really well. If you believe the scientivists, it keeps us warm. I don’t like cold – bring on the warmth. I try and emit as much carbon dioxide as I can to keep us warm and to help plants flourish.

  • @James Pickett In this context, zero carbon refers to the energy performance of the home once built. See my other comment regarding how new homes are coded. What you are referring to is generally known as ’embedded carbon’ – i.e. the energy involved in producing the materials for the home. It’s considered the, er, ‘next frontier’ in sustainable building…

  • Sorry to say the first sentence of your blog post is wrong. ‘Small developments’ (<10?) will be exempt potentially compromising the whole commitment to Zero Carbon Housing from 2016. Allowing offsets means that you are taxing new homeowners for others to get all the benefits.

    Only half delivered promise on what was a woefully watered down definintion of zero carbon homes. Is there no one in this government who will stand up to the lobbying of business groups with vested interests?

  • @Andrew MT
    The whole thing is greatly watered down version of the Labour 2006 Zero Carbon homes by 2016 announcement (where a zero carbon house was defined as a property with “zero net emissions of carbon dioxide from all energy use in the home”) and is expected to be further watered down because the construction industry has shown itself to be very capable of lobbying government (and the political parties) whilst at the same time totally incapable of reskilling and transforming itself into a modern industry; remember there is nothing in the 2016 revision that wasn’t possible to achieve prior to 2006 and many of the regulations can be satisfied by enhancements to a typical 1950’s house.

    Additionally, we shouldn’t forget that given the number of new homes that are reputedly needing to be built in the coming years, the coalition is effectively backtracking on its ‘green’ commitments; something it’s predecessor also did… So instead of using the thousands of new homes as an incentive to create a new construction industry, they are giving in to the dinosaurs, probably just so that there is money to fight the 2015 general election…

  • @Phillip Bratby – Your provocative comment does raise an interesting issue: One of the strange things about energy efficiency, particularly if you have both solar voltaic and solar thermal(or geothermal) panels , is that you do have to revise some of your thinking about just what exactly is energy efficiency.

    The modern building regulations focus on reducing the consumption of energy via the utility meter. Once you install your own natural (ie. solar or geothermal) energy supply, you go from a situation where for example hot water costs money, so you minimise it’s production and use, to one where you (almost) have hot water continuously on tap at little or no cost (in fact with solar thermal – heat is almost a waste product that if not properly disposed of will damage the system).

    In my explorations, I have found it is much easier to redesign and implement improvements that enable the most to be gained from solar/geothermal (and rain water collection) systems to a 1970’s built house than a 2000’s house (my current headache). So I do wonder whether the Building Regulations are treading the right path.

  • Be interested to know how “small developments” will be defined…

    Where I live around 1000 new houses have been built over a period of 15 years. Whilst on the surface only a handful of major builders have been involved, in fact many have been involved, once the overall site plan had received planning approval, planning applications for batches of 1~20 houses at a time were submitted, not by the construction plc’s but by their ‘local’ construction businesses – each a separate Ltd. … So if the threshold is 10 per planning application then expect to see many planning applications …

  • It is depressing that only 112,630 homes were built last year when we set a target of 300,000 homes back in 2010.

  • @Michael – Just to make you even more depressed 🙂
    The construction materials supply chain currently doesn’t have the capacity to build many more houses than circa 112,000 per annum. Whilst there is some capacity to step up production this will naturally take time, hence many are going to have to come to terms with the simple fact: either (or both) the way we currently build houses has to dramatically change or the target is unrealistic!

  • @ Roland “The construction materials supply chain currently doesn’t have the capacity to build many more houses than circa 112,000 per annum.”
    This is just more evidence of the failure of Liberal Democrats in government. After four years there could have been a much increased capacity if enough political will had been shown. It does explain why the government’s intervention in the housing market is just putting prices up.

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