What does the Future Homes Standard mean for the future of new builds?

To achieve the targets set out by the Future Homes Standard, (and net zero by 2050 thereafter) the way homes are designed and built will need to change significantly, says Dan Love, Head of Commercial at Polypipe Building Products

Construction is undergoing a period of rapid change, with further updates to building and safety regulations and ambitious environmental targets looming in the not-too-distant future. 

With the transitionary period for updates to Part L of the building regulations having come to a close in June this year, many in the industry have already had to make considerable adjustments to meet the 31% reduction in carbon emissions target. 

At the same time, we’re seeing demand for more efficient, sustainable homes and solutions being driven by homebuyers and occupiers, as energy bills remain high and awareness and education around the need to reduce carbon emissions increases. 

However, to achieve the Future Homes Standard 75-80% target in 2025, and the carbon neutral by 2050 for new builds thereafter, the industry is under more pressure than ever to scale up efforts to decarbonise – and fast. As a result, the way homes are fundamentally designed and built will need to change significantly.

The rise of renewables

With domestic buildings accounting for 27% of total UK emissions, and heating space and water accounting for 72% of all domestic emissions, it’s not surprising that plumbing and heating systems remain a key focus area. 

The government is taking action to phase out gas-powered heating and placing greater emphasis on renewable heating sources, particularly heat pumps. However, current progress is lagging way behind where it needs to be to meet the government’s goal of 600,000 heat pump installations per year by 2028. Recent data shows that just 60,000 heat pumps were installed in the UK last year, making the UK one of the slowest adopters in Europe. In fact, at the current rate of installation, it would take more than 400 years before every British home has a heat pump.

With the ban on new gas boilers from 2035 and the introduction of grants such as the Boiler Upgrade Scheme are a step in the right direction for the government, these measures are evidently not enough for consumers to make the transition. With the high upfront cost of heat pumps and the cost-of-living crisis rumbling on, there’s clearly more that needs to be done to make heat pumps more accessible and affordable to homeowners across the UK – and quickly. 

However, heat pumps are not the only answer or means to reaching the ambitious building regulations and environmental targets. It’s likely we’ll also see increased uptake of hydrogen boilers and photovoltaics as heat sources. 

Plus, heating sources are not the only change we’re likely to see while there’s a laser focus on efficiency. Increasingly, we’ll see changes to heating emitters, with steel radiators being upgraded to larger radiators, or replaced with radiant heating sources that can heat rooms at a lower temperature, such as underfloor heating. There’ll be a greater focus on insulation, with double glazing being replaced with triple or even quadruple glazing, and an increased focus on air-tightness solutions and pipe insulation. We’re also seeing a transition to an era of modern methods of construction (MMC) and minimalism, with some work being carried out offsite to reduce carbon emissions before buildings are even in operation. 

Overall, we’re going to see a greater focus on designing homes to require less energy and use lower carbon energy sources, in a bid to move away from reliance on fossil fuels and more towards renewable alternatives. Greater emphasis is being placed on making homes more airtight, better insulated and well-ventilated to circulate fresh air and minimise heat loss, therefore reducing the energy requirements of any source to heat homes. 

While there’s an abundance of innovative, lower-carbon solutions to make the future of new builds cleaner and greener, current adoption rates of renewable solutions like heat pumps raise concerns and questions over whether developments are going to happen at the required rate to meet the Future Homes Standard and Net Zero by 2050 targets. It’s clear that widescale change is needed across the industry to help us get there.

A data-driven approach to compliancy 

To build a better understanding of how and where efforts should be focused, the industry needs a more in-depth, granular approach to calculating carbon emissions, and a more holistic method across the entire operation.

Scope 3 can achieve just that. As currently the most widely-accepted method of calculating carbon emissions, it takes into account suppliers, construction activity, and the use of the property itself for its useful life. This includes scope 1; emissions from the developer in their day-to-day activities, scope 2; the emissions from purchased energy used by the developer, and scope 3; the emissions of all upstream and downstream third parties involved in the construction of the property. 

With this in mind, suppliers can have a major impact on carbon emissions as they touch the construction process at several points – both upstream in purchased goods and services and related fuel and energy, and downstream in transport and distribution, use of sold products, and product end of life. As such, choice of materials and suppliers will become an even bigger consideration in the drive to meet new building regulations and environmental targets. 

As the Future Homes Standard deadline rapidly approaches, data and information management will become even more crucial across design, tender, construction, and post-occupation. All stakeholders in a project will need to provide up-to-date and accurate data to ensure developments are fully compliant and have energy efficiency at their core, or risk being the missing link in the all-important chain.