Proposed changes to Building Regulations pave the way to future homes standard

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IMA welcomes the recent news that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has launched the consultation on changes to Building Regulations Part L and Part F which will be tied to the long-awaited Future Homes Standard. 

The challenge for the UK reaching net zero and a cleaner future will not be easy when you consider the built environment is responsible for 45 percent of UK carbon emissions. Energy efficiency is at the heart of the Future Homes Standard, with proposals for improved and more stringent fabric efficiency standards to be introduced in 2020 to minimise heat loss from walls, windows, doors, floors and roofs, as well as through much more attention to detail at junctions. 

Whilst many more affordable homes need to be built to an overall higher performance level to reduce costs and emissions, they also need to be delivered with much better built quality. This will start to reduce, and possibly eliminate the ‘performance gap’ between design performance and what is actually delivered. The announcement signposts some solutions to this, but overall there needs to be a ramp-up in policy support for delivering better homes, not just more homes to go with these proposals.

The proposed changes contain two carbon reduction options including a 20% reduction in CO2 from new homes compared to current standards, which the government says could be achieved through ‘very high fabric standards’, a gas boiler and a waste water heat recovery system.  This first option is only a negligible step beyond the abandoned Code 4 level (19% improvement) that was originally due to be delivered in 2016. The second option (and the government’s preferred option) represents a 31% improvement through a combination of fabric improvements alongside low carbon heating technologies and PV panels. This represents a bigger step forward to net zero, even if notional targets are based on a poorer fabric recipe than the first option and are not particularly strong compared to what is in place in Scotland and Wales.

The consultation outlines proposals for improving build quality through advice and guidance on ‘Compliance, Performance and Providing Information’ and draws heavily on previous work undertaken by the Zero Carbon Hub. In terms of insulation, this applies to issues of buildability and attention to detail such as gaps in insulation, thermal bypass and careful consideration of airtightness and thermal bridging – all of which can have a significant impact on heat loss and increased risks of condensation and mould.

The importance of strengthening energy policy and improving the energy efficiency of homes is essential if the UK is to meet the net zero target. Ensuring continuous insulation, minimising thermal bridging and achieving high levels of airtightness in buildings all play their part in a well-designed building fabric. Addressing these aspects of construction means the Building Regulation’s thermal targets can be met or exceeded and those performance levels can be incorporated into the finished building’s performance targets.

The proposals represent the first significant tightening of energy-efficiency standards for homes since Part L took effect in 2013. The PIR insulation sector is well poised to help the construction industry deliver better performing buildings both now and in the future, and to help the UK achieve the ambitions of our climate change targets.

The consultation can be found here.

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