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The Smart Homes of the Future (whatever that means)

Published: 11th May 2021
Area: Energy
About Positive Homes

We spoke to Martin Valentine, managing director of Positive Homes, which is a small developer who only build A-rated homes - homes built to a very high standard of energy efficiency, often using brownfield sites and is championing affordable pricing ensuring buyers do not pay an ‘eco premium’. The homes built by Positive Homes are in the top 1% of all new homes built since 2008, in terms of their green credentials.

How do we decarbonise? 

The heating of homes in the UK emits more carbon than all the coal fired and fossil fuel power stations in Europe. Moving away from these is absolutely vital to decarbonising but if the physical fabric of buildings and how we generate the energy used is not addressed then we will not meet the carbon reduction targets.

The government has launched its Future Homes Standard initiative which is its commitment to ensuring all new homes are zero carbon ready by 2025 – lofty ambitions indeed but how are we going to get there.

Where are we now?

At this present time, 99% of all new homes built in the UK are already obsolete on the first day they are occupied and are at best B rated in terms of energy efficiency. The UK is building 200k-250k new homes a year to this model.

There are also thousands of existing homes that will need improving to meet the zero carbon targets and at the moment there is no published plan for how this will be achieved, by the government.

How are we going to achieve our commitments by 2025? 

To meet the targets set it is key that the UK embraces Smart homes with improved fabric.  There is little point in installing solar power, ground and heat source heat pumps if the houses being built do not stop leaking energy.  The fabric of the building, therefore, are absolutely key to the future of new homes/buildings.

What do we mean by smart homes? Smart homes are homes fit for the future in terms of their energy consumption and generation and how they interact with others homes, new estates and transportation.

Is the UK Net Zero Carbon Ready? 

To achieve this the UK needs to be installing 600,000 heat pumps each year to 2028.  Last year 30,000 per installed. The UK must accelerate their use to ensure heat pumps are the primary source of heating for new homes.

The government’s own committee on climate change has confirmed that the UK needs 1.5m heat pumps to be installed by 2035 to be on track for 2050.

Are the majority new builds Net Zero Carbon Ready?

There is a major difference between Net Zero Carbon and Net Zero Carbon ready.  If a gas boiler and radiators is taken out of a current new build property and replaced with electric heating – this can be called a net zero carbon ready home as the grid being used to power it is decarbonised.

However, to be truly Net Zero Carbon Ready the use of coal and fossil fuelled power stations must cease and the industry must generate and use more energy from solar, wind and make use of batteries and battery storage.

But electricity is expensive and the cost of heating homes will increase significantly because the fabric of the building has not changed.  The traditional new build leaks energy and so costs are going to be high which will reduce the attractiveness of new technologies.

So how we achieve the smart home of the future? 

The answer is in modular housing, often also referred to as MMC or Modern Methods of Construction.  Modular homes are factory built housing, precision engineered by computers and robots, built to very high standards in a dry environment by one team.  This level of precision and design means that modular build homes can become genuine Net Zero Carbon Ready homes because of the fabric of the build and the way it is manufactured.  Modern modular homes are manufactured – they are not constructed.

The quality of materials and the precision engineering make MMC homes more energy efficient and reduce CO2 emissions making it the best route forward to achieve the UK's Net Zero Carbon missions targets and the only way to meet the Future Homes Standard by 2025.   Modular homes offer a realistic way to deliver the 300,000 homes needed per year and achieve higher eco-standards in all new builds.

What is stopping the UK from achieving this?

There appears to be a mismatch in the UK between the emissions targets set and the legal and regulatory frameworks that exist to meet those targets.  At the moment, the majority of new build developments have a set of criteria to meet that are at odds with the ambitions for the future.   For example, a minimum of two car parking spaces per dwelling, additional visitor car parking, tiny gardens and a road layout which will accommodate refuse collection vehicles.  All of these elements mean more tarmac, more CO2 emissions and a very inefficient use of space.

The government has acknowledged this and introduced the National Design Code which in theory is good news but this has not filtered down yet to local authorities and planners and currently it appears decisions are being made with no reference to this design code at all.

There is also a movement to allow communities to come together to generate their own energy via renewable sources which they can then sell back to themselves and others and use the money to reinvest back into community projects and more renewable energy. Until this issue is addressed we are not really going to talk about a culture of low carbon communities/housing in the UK binding people together for the common good.

In summary - What can we do to drive towards true Net Zero Carbon homes?
  • We need better energy and transport laws – campaign for community energy and a campaign for people over cars
  • We need to break the PLC builder monopoly: invest in small developers building highly energy efficient homes.  To achieve our emissions targets the country needs a larger number of providers delivering high quality homes at an increasing local level.
  • Don’t punish ‘very good’ for not being great – let’s get the basics and essentials right first.
Contact us

For further information please contact Andrew Whitehead in our dedicated energy team.

Our energy team is ranked as a Leading Firm in the Legal 500 2021 edition.

Our updated guide to recovery and resilience covers everything you need to navigate your way out of lockdown, unlock your potential and make way for a brighter future. Further advice in relation to COVID-19 can be found on our dedicated coronavirus resource hub.  

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Guest author

Martin Valentine
Managing Director, Positive Homes

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