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Zero carbon homes compromise gets mixed industry response

5 Jun 14 There has been a mixed response from the construction industry to government plans to relax its zero carbon homes ambitions.

Timber lobby not so keen on dilution to the regs
Timber lobby not so keen on dilution to the regs

The measures were outlined in the queen’s speech to the state opening of parliament yesterday. Legislation setting up a compromise ‘allowable solutions’ regime for the zero carbon standard for homes is to be contained within a wide-ranging infrastructure bill. (See yesterday’s report here.)

The allowable solutions regime is being set up to give developers a way to compensate for CO2 emission reductions that are difficult to achieve through design and construction.  They can do this by offering payment to alternative green schemes.

The National Federation of Builders, representing smaller and mid-sized independent house-building companies, welcomed the measures to exempt small housing developments from some zero carbon homes requirements. “The NFB and its division the House Builders Association (HBA) have previously called for the government to slow the implementation of these measures to avoid a deluge of rising costs that would have threatened SME-led growth in the housebuilding sector,” it said.

The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) agreed. Chief executive Brian Berry said: “The small developers’ exemption from zero carbon homes regulations will help SME house builders plug the gap in the supply of new homes. The government clearly recognises that the cost implications for smaller developments are much higher than previously estimated and now accepts that it is not sensible to impose the same regulatory burden on SME house builders when at the same time urging them to build more new homes.”

However, the timber sector said that the relaxation of zero carbon standards” could put back the low carbon homes agenda by 10 years”.

“The coalition has, in essence, abandoned its pledge to make all new homes zero carbon by 2016,” said David Hopkins, head of external affairs at the Wood for Good campaign. “Housing and the built environment is one of the major sources of greenhouse gases, yet ministers have repeatedly watered down goals to reduce emissions, abandoning sustainability principles in the belief that it will encourage more construction.”

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The UK Timber Industry Associations' Accord – trade bodies representing the supply chain of the forestry and timber industries – has written to building regulations minister Stephen Williams lobbying for embodied carbon to be reinstated into the zero carbon standard for new homes. Embodied carbon – the energy that goes into making building materials – accounts for between 30% to 50% of the carbon impact of a typical new building through its lifetime, and discounting this could have huge implications for the UK’s carbon footprint.

The Accord is proposing to government that incentives are put in place to encourage the selection of inherently low carbon building materials (they mean timber) while work continues to develop a National Materials Standard. They claim this could be achieved in the allowable solutions framework that is to be now part of the zero carbon standard.

Iain McIlwee, chief executive of the British Woodworking Federation (BWF), said: "The proposed regulations are a throwback to the days when people assumed, wrongly, that more energy is consumed in running buildings than in constructing them. We now know that reducing embodied energy in construction plays a huge part in decarbonisation. This move to allow developers and housebuilders to ignore the true impact of future new homes on our carbon emissions leaves a damaging void for the best energy-saving building materials such as timber and takes us back to an age of single issue green-washing."

He added: "Responsibly sourced timber is the most natural, renewable and environmentally sustainable building material. The benefits are impressive and unique. So this is something we need to ensure government understands and that the allowable solutions framework embraces embodied carbon within the definition of zero carbon homes."

Mat Lown, partner and head of sustainability at property and construction consultancy Tuffin Ferraby Taylor, said: “Exempting small housing developments from allowable solutions should only be seen as a short-term measure as ultimately provisions must be put in place to meet the requirements under EU’s Energy Performance of Buildings Directive 2010 that all buildings be nearly zero-energy by 2020.  It is also essential that government provides a clear definition of what constitutes a small housing site.”

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