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Decarbonisation and carbon neutral housing 

Posted 20/11/20

With the UK government recently announcing £2 billion investment is available for making homes carbon efficient, we take a look at the future of decarbonisation and carbon neutral housing. 

What is decarbonisation? 

Decarbonisation is the removal or reduction of carbon emissions to help solve the global climate crisis.  

The UK government has targets of becoming zero carbon by 2050, which applies to various industries, including agriculture and waste. However, The Committee on Climate Change has previously said this target isn’t achievable unless there is extensive decarbonisation in housing.

What green targets have come before in the housing industry? 

The Code for Sustainable Homes 

In 2006, the government launched its ‘Code for Sustainable Homes’ standard, dedicated to reducing carbon emissions in the UK. All construction of homes had to be assessed and certified on the design and build’s sustainability. Some of these included the carbon emissions, flooding prevention, materials used in the property, waste, and pollution. 

Under this code, homes would be given a Level ranging from 1 to 6. Level 6 meant the home was essentially ‘net zero’.

The code was scrapped in 2015 as part of an initiative to reduce regulation in the housing sector. 

The Green Deal 

In 2012, the government announced plans to renovate or retrofit around 14 million homes into green homes. The focus was on making more energy efficient houses and helping owners to save on their utility bills. This included upgrading areas such as wall and loft insulation, as well as switching to renewable technologies.

However, due to low uptake in the scheme, the government decided to scrap the Green Deal in 2015. 

Why does the housing industry need decarbonisation and carbon neutral houses? 

The housing industry contributes to 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions, according to the UK Green Building Council. Because of this, housing is a key area to tackle if the UK is serious about achieving its zero carbon targets.

The future of UK Decarbonisation 

To set the housing sector on the right path to achieving zero carbon homes by 2050, it requires not only changes and improvements made when building new homes, but also retrofitting existing homes, including social housing. 

With the UK’s first National Infrastructure Assessment published in July 2018, the focus on renewable energy schemes is a major way the housing and construction industries can make these initial steps towards decarbonisation. 

Some of the measures to focus on include switching to renewable energy to offset carbon emissions, improving building insulation and also focusing on smart building, such as implementing electrical vehicle (EV) charging points. 

With £2 billion being set aside for making zero carbon houses, the construction & housing sectors need to work together with local councils and organisations. 

There are also dedicated organisations, working to create solutions for achieving decarbonisation and reducing carbon emissions. The World Green Building Council is a global network of 70 individual Green Building Councils. They work together to promote the build and use of sustainable buildings and to achieve a net zero carbon built environment.

Housing and construction firms need to take a look at all stages of making a home carbon efficient. For example, there are operational and embodied carbon emissions to consider. Operational emissions arise through the HVAC systems of a building. Embodied carbon emissions are to do with the greenhouse gas generated through the manufacturing of building assets. 

Haydn Scarborough, Integrated Solutions Director at ENGIE UK & Ireland: 

“With UK households accounting for more than a quarter of the entire UK CO2 emissions, and half the market achieving a EPC rating of D or less – radical steps are required if the UK is to achieve a mass reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. We have very much taken our directive from the facts.  We know that new homes only account for 1-2% of total housing stock and 80% of the homes of 2050 are already in existence. So it’s clear that our existing supply is a considerable threat to plans for a zero carbon future.  More worrying is that in order to meet the UK 2050 target – a total of 300 homes every hour would need to be retrofitted. 

Our new ENGIE Zero offer has been designed as a fabric first, one-stop shop to decentralise, digitalise and decarbonise homes. Customers in local authorities, housing associations and registered providers, can implement whole house retrofit solutions; including the installation of solar PV and battery storage systems, fabric improvements to roof, walls and flooring, a low carbon heating and hot water solution, mechanical ventilation and long-term maintenance and monitoring.”

Now is the time for housing and construction firms to dedicate resources into making existing and new homes carbon efficient. Decarbonisation is a topic that is here to stay, and will only grow in importance.