12th September, 2023

A new era for new builds: What is the Future Homes Standard and what does it mean for specifiers?


Increasingly, the UK government is demonstrating its commitment to low-carbon, futureproof housing stock by enforcing tighter regulations for housebuilders and offering incentives for the installation of renewable energy sources.

With the biggest set of regulation updates in a decade hitting the housing and construction industry this year, we have already had to make considerable adjustments to ensure homes are more energy-efficient.

However, while these regulations legislate a number of significant changes, they are in fact interim updates that will act as a precursor to heftier legislation, such as the Future Homes Standard (FHS). The FHS will bring in robust guidance that will help the industry prepare the UK housing stock for net zero by 2050. This will be no small feat, though. In order to meet these targets, the way homes are designed and built needs to change significantly.

So, what is the Future Homes Standard?

In a nutshell, the Future Homes Standard will require CO2 emissions produced by new homes to be 75-80% lower than those built to previous (2019) standards. From 2025, all new homes will need to be ‘net zero ready’, equipped with low carbon technologies and operate using renewable heating solutions. The idea is that by the time we reach 2050, the UK’s targeted date for achieving net zero, new homes won’t require any retrofit work to adapt to the decarbonisation of the electricity grid.

What does this mean for new homes?

Domestic buildings currently account for 27% of UK carbon emissions and space and hot water account for 72% of all domestic emissions. With this in mind, it’s not going to be easy to meet these ambitions carbon emission reduction targets without significant change to the way we build homes, particularly in relation to space and water systems. As such, the materials and compositions of newly built homes will need to be fundamentally transformed.

As well as moving away from reliance on fossil fuels and towards low-carbon heating systems, there will also need to be a much greater emphasis on the fabric of buildings being more airtight. Homes will require better insulations and good ventilation to circulate not only fresh air but also heat to ultimately reduce the energy requirements of any heat sources to homes.

What about existing homes?

While homes being built from 2025 onwards will need to have sustainable heating systems, such as air source heat pumps, installed from the outset, retrofitting in existing homes will also play a major role in reducing carbon emissions. As such, homeowners are also being offered grants and incentives, most notably the Boiler Upgrade Scheme, to encourage them to install more energy-efficient systems. Not only will this save them money on utility bills, but will also help to create greener housing across the country.

Homeowners can already apply for funding to carry out a number of retrofit measures to improve energy efficiency and reduce the energy consumption of their properties, including insulation improvements such as double-glazing windows and doors. It is likely that as the FHS deadline approaches, the government will introduce more schemes to encourage the uptake of greener solutions.

Who is responsible for implementing these changes?

While the responsibility of implement the changes and meeting the carbon emissions targets doesn’t sit directly with one particular profession, it will have significant implications for the house industry as an entirety.

Significantly reducing carbon emissions across developments requires a greater understanding of all the areas where carbon emissions are generation and to what extent. To do this, scope three is widely accepted as the best method of calculating carbon emissions. It takes into account; scope one: the emissions of the developers themselves in their day-to-day activities, scope two: the emissions from purchased energy that the developer uses, and scope three: the total emissions of all upstream and downstream third parties involved in the construction of a property, including suppliers, construction activity, and the use of the property itself for its useful life.

Therefore, in the drive to meet with new regulations and targets, the choice of materials and products is going to become an even more essential consideration. To create greener housing, housebuilders and specifiers will need to look at the bigger picture and take into account factors like the weight of products and materials, ease of transport, ease of installation, energy consumption throughout their lifespan, as well as what happens with them at the end of life.

To ensure proof of sustainability credentials, the processes of design, tender, construction, and post-occupation will need to become heavily data-driven, and any changes or breaks in specification from the design will have major implications.

Looking ahead

Although the foundations for cleaner and greener new builds are being laid, whether the industry can adapt to developments at the rate required to meet FHS and net zero by 2050 targets remains to be seen. To ensure a smooth transition, the industry as a whole will need to focus on improving information management and providing accurate, up-to-date, easily accessible understandable data across all areas of a project to ensure developments are fully compliant with building regulations.

This sounds like a tall task, but the technology and innovation is already there. Now all we need to do is use it.

And by doing so, we can ensure we’re ready for a net zero future.

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