Is there a hidden cost for sustainable homes?

By Simon Hayes

12 May 2015

In a recent roundtable in Building magazine, a number of housing experts discussed ‘The True Cost of Sustainable Homes’, highlighting some interesting findings on how house builders can build sustainably and cheaply.

The research quoted In the article is probably not surprising to most. It shows that building to the full 2016 zero carbon standard adds up to 12.9% onto build costs, with simple fabric measures and PVs adding a modest 4%.

As we know, it will be possible to avoid the full zero carbon standard by building to the equivalent of Code 4 and compensating with additional allowable solutions, such as paying for insulating existing homes. As is mentioned, these off-site measures will undoubtedly be the more cost-effective option for developers. This may seem like a ‘get-out-clause’ to some, but the broader benefits, for example improving the existing housing stock, should not be discounted. Instead they should be analysed on a case by case basis against the feasibility and effectiveness of on-site measures.

As is alluded to in the article, the key to this may be the level at which the carbon price is set. A balance needs to be struck between encouraging on-site measures for those developments where it makes sense without unjustifiably punishing developments for those it does not.

The other interesting point raised is that housing supply is not limited by higher building standards, which raises concerns over the motives behind the recent housing standards review. However the fact remains that the performance of buildings built to ‘higher standards’ needs to start measuring up. The general consensus of those at this roundtable discussion was that the construction industry should set itself higher standards, but we need to start effectively measuring the results in practice.

The article highlighted an ‘as built’ performance standard, which should help to force performance further up the agenda. This is fundamental. Housing built to higher standards needs to have a demonstrable benefit to the occupier, whether this is through savings in energy or improved comfort, health and wellbeing. To justify this requires going back and seeing how the properties perform for the people living there. Designing out unnecessary complexity is also key. Get the simple things right and ensure that people can use their homes efficiently. Looking forward, demonstrating the enhanced value could lead to more sustainable homes demanding a higher price on the market.

To read the full roundtable discussion, please view here.


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