Apr 22, 2014

How will the changes to Building Regulations affect provision for affordable housing?

Housing is close to the top of many local authorities’ agendas at the moment. There are serious conversations taking place about the need to deliver affordable homes at a time of pressing need and the increasing demand that many areas face, particularly in the South East.

But this has been an issue across the UK for a number of years, particularly in areas of the country where price pressure is so high. As a recent example, one London borough announced it would be investing £83 million to deliver almost 500 new affordable homes, making the average cost to build around £166,000.

Nevertheless, there has been a marked rise in the number of houses being built in the UK. Last year this saw an increase in new starts of 28 per cent, while there were 133,670 number of new homes registered across the country. These figures underline the current demand for housing, while the Government announced it is targeting 170,000 new affordable homes by 2015, with another 165,000 due to arrive by 2018.

Building these homes quickly and affordably will be crucial to meeting the demand placed upon local authorities for housing. But recent changes to legislation will have an impact on how they, and other housing providers, go about doing that.

Changes to legislation

In April 2014 changes to Part L of the Building Regulations come into effect. For several reasons, these will affect how local authorities approach meeting their housing targets. For one, under the amendments to the legislation, all new-build housing will have to be six per cent more energy efficient than under the current standards which were enacted in 2010.

Perhaps more importantly, the changes to Part L seek to change the way we look at how new homes achieve their energy targets. Emphasis will be placed on a new home’s fabric, with the introduction of a fabric energy efficiency standard (FEES). This will mean energy performance has to be achieved through the materials from which a home is built, rather than retrofitting extra devices to make them more sustainable.

What’s more, the changes point to what may lie ahead in any further legislative updates.  The new, more challenging Part L provides a strong indicator of how the ‘fabric first’ approach (more of which later) will be used on the road towards zero carbon targets in 2016.

What does that mean in practice? The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) estimates that this will mean large housebuilders will need to spend an extra £467 on end of terrace houses. For small builders that’s a £521 increase. But the Government says this will be recouped by the saving for householders and building occupiers on their energy bills, due to the increased energy efficiency of their buildings.

While the changes to Part L will only affect England’s local authorities, there are even more ambitious plans in Scotland after the reconvening of the Sullivan Panel in September 2013. At this meeting it was agreed that new homes in Scotland would need to be 21 per cent more energy efficient than under the current regulations, with the new Part L in England only bringing them in line with current Scottish energy standards. More demanding standards are clearly a common theme for housing providers throughout the UK.

Meeting the challenge

In a number of our recent affordable housing projects, we have worked on developments that have aimed to go beyond what is required by current standards.

With Thames Valley Housing, a housing association, this was an affordable housing project called “The Serpentine”. It delivered 94 homes to highly sustainable standards for under £60,000 each. This was achieved through the innovative use of timber frame as a building solution, and an off-site approach to construction.

Similarly, in Preston we worked with Communities Gateway Association and Adactus Housing Association on a Government-backed project that looked into delivering affordable homes in volume, previously a perennial issue for the industry.

Improving energy efficiency through the build fabric – delivering enhanced insulation, reduction of thermal bridging and heat loss, improved air tightness and greater construction performance – was the key component of ensuring these homes reached the targets required, without an abundance of new technology. In Preston, three of the homes were built to Code for Sustainable Homes (CSH) Level four, through a fabric only solution, which was a UK first, while the remaining 10 were delivered to CSH level three.

In both projects, the homes were built to standards that ensure they are “future-proofed” against forthcoming rises to revised regulations. This was achieved through the fabric first approach, which means the energy performance is achieved primarily through the homes’ build envelope without the need for additional technological devices such as micro-renewables. This helps cut costs and risk, whilst taking tenant behaviour out of the equation.

As a material, timber frame was well placed to provide the necessary energy efficiency for the highly sustainable developments. It has the lowest embodied carbon of any commercially available material and can deliver an overall energy reduction of up to 33 per cent. In addition, for every cubic metre of wood used instead of other building materials, 0.8 of a tonne of CO² is saved from the atmosphere.

The use of offsite construction methods was also important to both projects’ success, with factory-engineered precision ensuring there were fewer defects in the timber systems, greater air tightness and insulation, which helps to cut down energy costs in the future and reach the sustainability targets required of the project at hand.

A stepping stone

Hitting new energy efficiency standards can be perceived as a tricky task, particularly when it comes to delivering affordable homes. But there are several measures that can be taken to mitigate their impact and make the transition to new standards as seamless and easy as possible.

Part L is another stepping stone on the road to zero carbon homes. Affordable housing providers need to be aware of that fact and plan their housing stock accordingly. One of the best ways of doing that is undoubtedly to “future proof” new stock now, by adopting a fabric first approach, ahead of even more rigorous standards and technologies coming into effect.

Homes For Scotland Home Builders Federation National House-Building Council Royal Institute of British Architects Structural Timber Association Constructionline British Board of Agrement Wood Campus Build Off Site Building Research Establishment WOOD FOR GOOD

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