Building Beyond – Preparing for a Net Zero Future

The drive for energy efficient homes is continuing at pace with the new Part L Building Regulations now in place and housebuilders and suppliers preparing for the Future Homes Standard. Here, Gonzalo Bunse, Category Marketing Director at Wienerberger UK and Ireland, looks at the impact of the guidance and shares his views on how housebuilders and developers could prepare for a new energy efficient future.

If the UK is to come anywhere close to meeting its net zero ambitions, the construction sector needs to play a central role.  According to the United Nations, carbon emissions from buildings and construction reached a record high in 2021, accounting for 37% of CO2 emissions. Likewise, heating and powering buildings now accounts for 30% of the UK’s total energy usage.

In 2021, the Government set out changes to building regulations so that, from 2025, the Future Homes Standard will deliver homes that are zero-carbon ready with no further retrofit needed. From this date, new homes will need to produce 75-80% less carbon emissions than homes built under pre 2022 Building Regulations and become net zero once the electricity grid is decarbonised. From 2025, gas boilers will be banned in new build properties too, so all homes built from 2025 onwards will have an alternative heating system, such as heat pumps, electric boilers, and infrared heaters. 

However, with 2025 fast approaching, significant changes must happen at pace. Research carried out by members of The Housing Forum’s Future Network has highlighted that the housing industry believes it is unlikely to meet the Future Homes and Building Standards requirements. Significantly, one in five of those surveyed said that their organisation doesn’t have a plan in place that will enable them to deliver homes that will meet 2025 emissions targets. 

The research indicates that there is no full understanding regarding the available technologies that can assist developers in meeting their objectives, which may result in the housing industry not acting as fast as they should to meet the new legislative targets.

To meet the 2025 milestones, suppliers play a significant role in collaborating with developers to help them gain familiarity with novel technologies and building methods, allowing enough time for the demand for new skills and products to be met. 

How housebuilders can tackle the challenge 

So, in practical terms, how can housebuilders and suppliers work together to get ready for the Future Homes Standard in time? 

Part L laid out the significance of adopting a ‘Fabric First’ approach, opting for high-performance fabric materials that minimise energy use and, in turn, reduce a home’s operational carbon footprint. This ‘Fabric First’ approach, specifying the optimum building materials from the start, is central to the Future Homes Standard. It focuses on the selection of high performing fabric materials to reduce energy demand for heating, cooling, ventilation, hot water and lighting, which in turn reduces the dwelling’s operational emissions.

While the onus is on housebuilders to think ‘Fabric First’, it’s also imperative that suppliers who want to play a part in the construction of these future homes continue to innovate high performance products with decarbonisation and energy efficiency front of mind.

Leading manufacturers such as Wienerberger are stepping up to meet this challenge. For instance, at the start of 2023, we launched a new Eco-brick range, which can help housebuilders looking to achieve an uplift to standards in Part L whilst reducing brick costs by around 10 per cent. It has a slimmer profile than conventional facing brick and, importantly for prospective homebuyers, allows potential savings on energy bills and an increase in thermal performance by providing more space to increase insulation material by 37.5mm. Being a slimmer brick, less clay is extracted, processed and transported which, in turn, cuts the carbon footprint per square metre of façade by up to one-third.

Likewise, Porotherm clay block walling systems are an innovative method of construction which can also help housebuilders to meet Future Homes Standard requirements. Used for thousands of years in construction worldwide, clay remains the most sustainable solution for modern buildings. Porotherm’s exceptional thermal properties are advantageous in two ways. Firstly, it delivers a more favourable u-value by preventing heat loss from the inner leaf of a building. Secondly, it reduces overheating by utilising thermal mass, resulting in a consistent and comfortable indoor temperature throughout the year and an ideal living environment. 30% of its materials are from alternative, recycled or secondary sources too.

Wienerberger can also support with solutions that complement the “Fabric First” approach and help developers to achieve the legislative targets. An example of this is our recently launched integrated in-roof solar system. The in-roof integrated panels are applied directly to the roof battens, incorporating an interlocking design to speed up the installation process. The single-lapped panels have also been developed to reflect the aesthetic of a traditional tiled roof and are fully compatible with all clay and concrete tiles. In addition, our compact, scalable system has minimal components, making it easier to handle, transport and store. It’s also MCS accredited down to a minimum pitch of 15o, something that is unique to the market, making our system compatible with more roofs.

The in-roof solar launch marked a huge step for us in supporting our housebuilder customers to prepare for a net zero future. Building regulations and the Future Homes Standard all lead to homes which can generate and store their own energy and solar is an easy way to achieve this. 

Building Beyond

There is no question that transformative change is needed within the construction industry to achieve net zero emissions in the built environment. Part L is the first step towards a greener and healthier future. Striving for enhanced efficiencies beyond those regulations laid out in Part L will ensure new housebuilders are better equipped for the Future Homes Standard. Thinking ‘fabric-first’ and using products that will aid in sustainable building practices is integral to ensuring regulations are met.

If everything goes to plan, the housebuilding sector will emit fewer CO2 emissions and will show that it can help the UK meet the climate challenge. And it’s not just Government targets and changing building regulations driving this. Looking at homebuyers, research says they are being more discerning and demanding about the energy efficiency of their homes. 

One thing is clear. Suppliers have a significant opportunity to help housebuilders to shape the future of the built environment, and the development and adoption of innovative solutions will be the answer to this.