Plans to tighten energy efficiency in buildings

England, Wales

The Government has launched a consultation on the introduction of a “Future Homes Standard” for England, to be operable from 2025. There are to be proposed interim measures applicable from 2020. The aim is to ensure that new build homes in England will be future-proofed, with low carbon heating and world-leading levels of energy efficiency.[1] Further consultation on the technical detail, guidance and impact of the proposed Future Homes Standard is to be published in 2024 (following a period of research), albeit the current consultation includes an outline of the expected Standard and a roadmap to achieving it.

This is the first of a two-part consultation regarding proposed changes in England to the Building Regulations[2]. The second consultation is expected shortly and will consider the introduction of increased energy efficiency requirements for (1) existing domestic buildings and (2) new and existing non-domestic buildings.

The consultations are one of the Government’s initiatives in response to the legally binding national target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Energy use by new and existing homes currently accounts for approximately 20% of all UK greenhouse gas emissions. The Future Homes Standard, along with the Clean Growth Grand Challenge to halve energy use in all new builds by 2030,[3] aims to set a path towards decarbonisation of new homes and support the scaling up of low carbon technologies to decarbonise existing homes.

Transitional standards: from 2020

Four performance metrics are proposed for buildings to be measured against under the transitional standards:

  • Primary energy target (principal performance metric);
  • CO₂ emission target (secondary performance metric);
  • Householder affordability rating; and
  • Minimum standards for fabric and fixed building services.

The current Part L (Conservation of Fuel and Power) energy efficiency standards set performance targets for new dwellings based on the carbon dioxide (“CO₂”) emissions of that dwelling. The rationale for the change in performance metrics is that CO₂ and energy efficiency may be related but are not the same thing. In terms of electricity use in a new dwelling, CO₂ emissions will become less relevant over time as the UK moves to a decarbonised electricity grid.

In terms of the CO₂ metric, the consultation sets out two options to uplift the current Part L standards in 2020 when compared with the current standard for an average home:

  • Option 1: 20% reduction in CO₂ emissions.
  • Option 2: 31% reduction in CO₂ emissions. This is the Government’s preferred option. It is proposed that this could be achieved through the installation of carbon-saving technology (such as solar panels) and improved fabric standards.

The transitional standards are designed to encourage home builders, installers and supply chains to work to higher specifications in readiness for the introduction of the more stringent 2025 Future Homes Standard.

The consultation proposes to remove the power of the local planning authorities to set higher energy efficiency standards than those in the Building Regulations, to mitigate the overall increase in costs for home builders in complying with the transitional standards.

Future Home Standard

The consultation states that the Standard will include very high fabric standards (including triple glazing and standards for walls, floors and roofs that significantly limit heat loss) and low carbon heating system requirements. It is anticipated that an average semi-detached home built to meet the Standard should produce 75-80% less CO₂ emissions than one built to the current Part L requirements. Homes built to the Standard are expected to become net zero over time without any further changes, as the UK moves towards decarbonisation.

The Government considers that the scalable low carbon heating solution is likely to be use of heat pumps, heat networks and direct electric heating. However, despite the former Chancellor’s announcement in March 2019 that the Government “will introduce a Future Homes Standard, mandating the end of fossil-fuel heating systems in all new houses from 2025”, the consultation does not propose to ban gas, LPG, oil or solid mineral fuels being used in new buildings. In the consultation, the Government accepts the continued use of gas, but acknowledges that if oil, LPG or solid mineral fuel are to be used in new buildings, considerable mitigating measures would need to be installed to reach parity in terms of performance standards with a new gas-heated building.

This consultation is open until 10 January 2020. Responses should be submitted online.

Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards

The Government has also launched a consultation seeking views on how best to improve the energy performance of non-domestic private rented buildings in England and Wales through tighter minimum energy efficiency standards (“MEES”).[4] The Government’s preferred requirement is that all non-domestic privately rented buildings achieve a minimum of EPC band B by 1 April 2030, provided the measures required to meet this are cost effective. An alternative proposal is a minimum EPC band C by 1 April 2030. The proposal is also that Landlords could continue to let a building post 2030 that do not meet the required minimum EPC standard, provided the relevant landlords prove the building has reached the highest EPC band that a cost-effective package of measures could deliver.

The consultation provides two options for implementing the tighter MEES requirement. The first option is to introduce milestones to 2030 (i.e. a gradual increase of the standard until it reaches EPC B or C by 2030). The objective here is to seek early action by landlords and obtain a greater positive impact on carbon and energy savings. A suggested alternative is to implement a single backstop date in 2030, albeit other incentives (financial and non-financial) may be introduced to encourage landlords to make changes in advance of the backstop date.

This consultation is open until 7 January 2020. Responses should be submitted online.

Comment

These are potentially significant measures. They also signal part of much wider action that will be required to reach net-zero by 2050. Those involved in real estate, construction and in the supply of energy, may be interested to respond.