Innovative new low-energy homes are leading the UK’s charge to net zero.
The UK wants to be at net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This involves changing the way we generate energy, which is why new wind farms are springing up across the country. There are also various carrots and sticks to encourage us to stop driving gas-guzzling cars and switch to electric.
The next frontier on the quest to net zero is a bit closer to home. In fact, it is our home. All around the UK, pioneering new properties are being built that drastically reduce the amount of energy homeowners consume (and carbon emissions) as they go about their daily lives.
In this article, we’ll explain what eco-homes are and how they are gaining traction across the country. We’ll also look at how the government is encouraging their take-up. Let’s go.
Eco-homes in the UK are moving from Grand Designs style one-offs to viable mass-build properties. According to research by the London Energy Transformation Initiative (LETI), more than 30,000 new low-carbon homes are being planned.
The threshold for a home to be called an eco-home is that its energy requirements are 15kWh per square metre per year. To gauge that against other houses, the average requirement in the UK is 54 kWh per square metre per year. These numbers come from the eco-home non-profit organisation, Passivhaus.
Currently, pockets eco-homes are springing up primarily in cities such as Leeds, Exeter and Norwich, with many more on the cards.
What is an eco-home
When designing eco-homes, architects have ripped up the rule book. They have considered every material and every part of the home-building process and thought about how it can be made as close to net-zero as possible.
Walls are constructed from insulated clay bricks or airtight timber panels packed with wood-fibre insulation. Windows are triple-glazed. These materials are brilliant for holding in heat.
The top of the house will have light wells that act as sun traps, lessening reliance on electric lighting. On hot days, you can open the light well to let out hot air.
On the roof, there are solar panels generating energy to power the home and beyond. Some homes may have thermal heat pumps in their gardens to heat their homes and cold air vents by their doors for cooling.
Streets that hold terraces of eco-homes are car-free. Everything is about reducing the carbon emissions associated with the homes and their owners.
Benefits of eco-homes
Clearly, the most critical benefit of eco-homes is the reduction in carbon that they lead to. Eco-homes are 3.5 times more energy-efficient than the average home, so the more homes that get built, the greater the effect on the country’s emissions numbers.
People who live in eco-homes get the benefits that come with lower energy bills. This is considerable. At an eco-home development in Exeter, 60% of the tenants have never had to switch on their central heating. Some have been there for 12 years. Imagine that!
At the development in Leeds, solar panels on the roofs generate enough energy to power all the homes, but they also create excess energy, which is fed into a community grid. This power is then used to power a shared electric car scheme.
Eco-homes are also simple to build, and most of the materials are manufactured in UK factories.
It is fair to expect more pockets of eco-homes to spring up, especially as we get closer to the net-zero deadline in 2050. It won’t be just homes either; there will be offices, public buildings, schools and more that go eco.
One of the things that will be essential if low-carbon homes are to reach critical mass is take-up from housebuilders. There are signs that this is beginning to happen. Persimmon is working on a zero-carbon house that can be replicated at scale, near its head office in York. How long before we see entire new-build sites filled with eco-homes?
One of the fantastic things about the growth in popularity of eco-homes is that it’s happening without government input. The current standard of low-carbon homes is far ahead of where government regulations are right now.
However, there are signs that the government is beginning to sit up and take notice. A new policy, the future homes standard, is due to come in around 2025, ordering new homes to be ‘zero-carbon-ready’.
For current homeowners, the government is offering grants of up to £5000 to cover home improvements that make their properties more carbon-friendly. For homeowners on low incomes, this grant covers up to £10,000. It is hoped that more than 600,000 homes will be improved thanks to these grants. There is also £1 billion set aside to enhance the carbon-efficiency of the nation’s public buildings and £50 million to improve the worst-performing examples of social housing.
The government is also tightening the standards for landlords who want to rent out their properties. Landlords must now ensure their properties are at Band C of the Energy Performance Certificate standards or higher.
With these new initiatives coming in, as well as more eco-homes entering the nation’s housing stock, it is hoped that carbon emissions can be drastically reduced.
The future is eco
It is an exciting time to be in housing design now, as there seems to be a real appetite for making homes more eco-friendly. What’s more, developers are doing this off their own backs, without the carrots or sticks from the government.
It would be good if eco-homes could reach the same social stature as electric cars, with people willing to pay more to do their bit for the environment. We will wait and see.