Electric solutions are paving the way

Callum Whittall, technical and compliance lead at Green Lighting discusses how new regulations are changing the face of the housebuilding industry, and some of the electrical solutions developers should be considering.

The recent implementation of Part L and the forthcoming Future Homes Standard (FHS) has led the housebuilding industry to face some of its biggest challenges in decades; in adapting to these regulations, it has been proven that there really is no one size fits all solution.  

With Part L aiming to improve the energy performance of new and existing buildings, it’s unsurprising that the extent of the changes were vast. And, when it came into force, it still felt like the industry as a whole was behind, no matter how prepared we tried to be. 

Theoretically housebuilders and developers should now be fully compliant, with Part L being released two years ago, but there are still some who are yet to make the necessary updates. 

The one thing we can be certain of is that the future for new homes is one that’s carbon zero. We’ve seen the gradual reduction of CO2 emissions by 31% in 2022 and 75% in 2025 – quite a substantial jump in just three years. 

Understandably then, in becoming compliant with Part L, many are also thinking ahead to the FHS, which will make things much more restrictive, with the removal of gas. 

According to housing experts, delays to the Government’s planned consultation on net zero regulations for housebuilding will result in heftier energy bills for more households.

The FHS stipulates that all new build properties are to be constructed to be low carbon. This was due to be opened for consultation in March, but was instead pushed back to a publication in the summer – however, during the recent Tory party conference, Martin Callanan, the Minister for Energy Efficiency and Green Finance, said this was delayed to the end of the year.

Yet despite these delays and setbacks, we are seeing more and more solutions being adopted by housebuilders and homeowners in order to lower their carbon footprint and save money. 

Today, a total of 95% of UK homes are centrally heated, with the vast majority relying on gas or oil-fired boilers. Home heating currently accounts for 14% of the UK’s carbon emissions. The Government wants to see 600,000 heat pumps installed each year to help meet its target of net zero by 2050.  

As the UK looks to reduce its carbon footprint, heat pumps are becoming a popular option for housebuilders and homeowners looking for alternative energy solutions.

Heat pumps use electricity, which often comes from renewable sources to heat buildings; they’re known to be incredibly efficient, cheap to run, are quiet and require relatively low maintenance. 

About 1.5 million homes are estimated to have been built without low-carbon fittings since 2015, when the Conservative government scrapped the zero carbon homes standard. The cost of retrofitting these homes is likely to reach £30bn to £45bn – a cost which will now fall on homeowners or taxpayers.

But what about heat pumps – are they worth the hype? Earlier this year, a major survey of heat pump users by the innovation charity Nesta, found that more than 80% of households which have replaced their gas boilers with an electric heat pump are satisfied with the new heating system.

Yet, while the figures sound impressive, it’s important to note that the survey was commissioned because many people are actually still unfamiliar with heat pumps, and less than 1% of people in the UK actually use one to heat their home. 

Despite their pros, they are expensive, still relatively unknown, and there are other, possibly more accessible options available. 

The one major issue with heat pumps is that they require qualified installers – demand for which will rocket, especially in line with the FHS. Does the UK have enough of these qualified installers? Currently, no. 

At the moment, the UK is facing a major skills shortage in this area. There aren’t enough qualified installers to meet the demand of people wanting to swap over to heat pumps, let alone to meet the demand for 200,000 new build houses which will also need heat pumps to be installed. 

If heat pumps are the preferred option, where are the tradespeople coming from? Every existing plumber should be thinking about retraining to install heat pumps.  In line with demand, those tradespeople who are qualified are then in a position to ask for more to do it, resulting in increased installation costs. 

Infrared heating is another highly efficient solution, which is both sustainable and affordable. Unlike heat pumps, infrared heating does not need specially qualified installers – any electrician can install infrared panels.

Infrared uses electricity to heat surfaces and objects (the ‘thermal mass’) and people, not the air around them. By absorbing the heat, infrared heated objects then re-emit warmth back into the room and, once the thermal mass is warm, the building retains heat for a period of time.

While the removal of gas under the FHS will undoubtedly place a strain on electricity and thereby, the grid, electric solutions – while seemingly contradictory – can have a huge impact on reducing this pressure.

With more and more homeowners also installing solutions such as solar panels and crucially, battery storage systems, unused power can be harnessed and used again or transferred back to
 the grid, thereby supporting overall energy outputs. 

Alongside this, the introduction of the SAP 10 software means electricity now has a lower carbon factor than gas, so it’s now much easier for electrically heated buildings to comply with the target emissions rate (TER) than before. 

Ultimately, when it comes to reducing household carbon emissions, it’s important to look at the options available. Suppliers need to be on-hand to offer the best advice they can and work with housebuilders to find the most effective, and indeed efficient, solutions.

The Future Homes Hub is going someway to help housebuilders and developers work out what needs to be said and done to meet this requirement and what they need to do. More work and research needs to be done not only into the best solutions for the job but also how we fit them all into modern homes to ensure not only reduced carbon emissions but a good living environment for homeowners. 

While changes like Part L and the FHS mark a pivotal moment in the housebuilder and developer industry, electric solutions have long been paving the way as sustainable, energy-efficient alternatives. 

With the market now bigger than ever, there really is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ option but the range of solutions is far-reaching, giving builders more options and making compliance with regulations more straightforward.