As net zero carbon becomes a guiding principle across all new buildings, creating housing stock that meets the requirements of residents, regulators and developers is a challenge, especially with so many design and construction issues yet to be solved or approaches to be standardised.
The built environment is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, nevertheless, new homes must be built. The government wants 300,000 homes built each year to meet demand but construction is falling far short of this goal.
The industry is tasked with meeting the dual challenge of delivering new residential buildings while reducing carbon output to neutral levels, in order to produce net zero carbon emissions by 2050 which is required by many countries. Building homes to net zero standards will therefore be critical to providing much-needed housing stock while keeping the sector’s carbon emissions to a minimum.
As yet, there are very few completed net zero carbon housing developments of significant commercial value and scale to use as standard bearers and templates for future projects. Existing low or zero carbon developments tend to be one-off experiments, such as small projects built to Passivhaus standards.
There is an obvious need for accurate, reliable data to enable standardisation of net zero – with the goal being that the carbon value of each element of design, construction, operation and decommissioning can be easily quantified.
The uncertainty around what exactly constitutes a net zero homes project will soon fade. For example, residential buildings will need to be constructed to meet future Part L regulations – updates to which are in consultation, with new guidance due next year. These updated rules will help set the standard for the energy performance and carbon output of new dwellings.
Net zero concepts in some ways represent a return to traditional ideas – of sourcing locally and frugally and of considering natural materials and reducing waste – yet they also demand understanding and being ready to deploy forward-looking technology and carbon-quantifying techniques to achieve and measure a successful project.