Warning over ‘invisible cheat’ on energy efficiency in new homes

Wood has worked with the UK Government’s “housing accelerator” body – Homes England − and predecessors for about 20 years.
Wood has worked with the UK Government’s “housing accelerator” body – Homes England − and predecessors for about 20 years.

Building new homes that fail to live up to energy efficiency standards is an “invisible cheat” which costs homeowners money and hits climate efforts, Government advisers warn.

UK homes are not fit for the future, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) said in a report, with stalling efforts to cut greenhouse gases from housing, and properties at growing risk of overheating and flooding.

The committee called on the Government to get serious on tackling emissions from homes and making sure they are adapted to cope with a future of more heatwaves, droughts and floods.

The way new homes are built and existing properties are “retrofitted” with energy efficiency measures often falls short of stated design standards, deceiving householders and inflicting costs on the future, the committee said.

Closing the “performance gap” between design standards and what is achieved could save households in new homes between £70 and £260 a year on their energy bills, a report from the committee said.

Cash-strapped councils need better funding to help enforce building standards and there should be stiffer penalties for non-compliance.

The Treasury should support measures in existing homes to install low-carbon heating such as heat pumps, loft and wall insulation and protection for properties at risk of flooding, as a “major infrastructure priority”.

Support is also needed to train designers, builders and installers of climate-friendly technology to address the low-carbon skills gap and create green jobs.

And from 2025 at the latest, no new homes should be connected to the gas grid – with super-efficient houses and flats heated using low-carbon energy, the report said.

Baroness Brown, chairwoman of the adaptation sub-committee of the CCC, said: “There are almost 30 million homes in the UK, and the depressing fact is most of them are not in a condition to keep us comfortable and productive and well as the climate changes.

“They are a huge part of the problem – energy use in our homes is around a fifth of greenhouse gases, and the biggest part of those emissions is from burning gas for heating and hot water.”

A government committed to meeting climate targets, which require net zero emissions to curb rising temperatures, “has to get serious about this”, she said.

Methods for making homes net zero emissions and resilient to a changing climate, as well as lowering bills and ensuring people lived in a healthier environment, cutting NHS costs, were already known.

She pointed to the diesel scandal, which raised concerns about the gap between reported standards by cars and real world performance, and described the performance gap for homes as “an invisible cheat”.

“This is an unspoken crisis,” she warned.

She suggested the Government should be demanding much higher standards through measures to encourage building 300,000 new homes a year.

“We shouldn’t be allowing 300,000 substandard homes that will need upgrading to be built, they should be built to the right standard now.

“We could tell house builders who are making a lot of money from Help to Buy that it’s only available for homes of a really high quality.”

Householders can also make a difference in cutting emissions and making homes more resilient to a changing climate, through measures such as setting boilers and thermostats to the right temperature, switching off the tap while cleaning their teeth and watering the garden only when needed.

Lord Deben, chairman of the committee, warned: “Simply put, there is no way in which the UK can meet the legally binding climate change targets that Parliament has determined unless we take the measures outlined in this report.”