The UK Code for Sustainable Homes - study tour 2008

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In June 2008, Beacon initiated a tour to the United Kingdom to gather information and advice on the UK Code for Sustainable Homes implemented in April 2007. Our aim was to seed the idea of developing a  New Zealand version of the Code for Sustainable Homes. Joining us were representatives from:

  • Department of Building and Housing
  • EECA
  • Housing New Zealand Corporation
  • PlaceMakers
  • New Zealand Steel
  • Registered Master Builders’ Federation
  • Waitakere City Council
  • Scion


What is the Code for Sustainable Homes?

The Code for Sustainable Homes is a national standard for building homes in a more sustainable way. At its core is an environmental rating method, which assesses new homes both at the design phase and post-construction.

The Code was introduced in April 2007 to meet the UK government’s target for all new homes to be carbon zero by 2016. This initiative will contribute to the UK’s broader carbon reduction targets for 2050, at which time new build (2008-2050) is expected to form close to 30% of UK housing stock.

The Code provides every home rated against it with a star rating from 0 to 6 - 0 being the current Building Code level, 6 a zero carbon home. Level 1 is very achievable; level 3, estimated to cost an additional £3,000 - £5,000, is reasonably doable; level 6 is currently very aspirational.

In May 2008 labelling for all new homes against the Code became mandatory, yet it is presently not mandatory to achieve any particular level. All new homes built with funding from the UK Housing Corporation, however, must meet level 3.


Bright future

 While implementation of the Code is in its infancy, its future looks bright, and it owes much of its success to the way in which it is administered.

The Department of Communities and Local Government, which is responsible for the UK Building Code, also oversees the Code for Sustainable Homes. The two industry codes work in tandem, with the Code for Sustainable Homes signalling early to industry the standards likely to become mandatory in future reviews of the Building Code.

The Code provides a clear policy roadmap for industry. It gives product manufacturers, developers and house builders an investment timeline and more certainty that the R&D required to change to more sustainable building practices will prove worthwhile.

This ‘road map’ is creating a real and perceptible change in the market.

The UK’s building industry is engaged and actively identifying market opportunities. Life cycle assessments of carbon emissions are well understood and the industry accepts that robust information about the environmental performance of their products is vital to satisfying consumer demands for verification of environmental claims.

The high proportion (approximately 30%) of new housing procured through social programmes, and for which funding is conditional on meeting higher sustainability performance than the building regulations require, provides a strong influence for industry change. The high market share and role modelling through new social housing, plus future changes in the Code being signalled early, provide even greater motivation for industry investment in change.

Kingspan Lighthouse in UKOf course, nothing is possible without the technology. Driving this are decades of research at the Building Research Establishment, which has provided the technical foundation for the Code for Sustainable Homes.

Technology is continually evolving to address the nine design categories in the Code: energy/CO2, water, materials, surface water run-off, waste, pollution, health and wellbeing, management, and ecology.

Solutions to levels 3 and 4 are practical and robust, and technological solutions exist for zero-carbon (level 6) housing. Yet the latter are currently only available at a high cost and some may create problems such as poor indoor air quality and reliance on mechanical rather than passive systems.


The New Zealand equation

One of the major differences between the UK and New Zealand is the dominance there of local authority-provided social housing and European partnerships for sustainable housing. This provides significant levels of funding for building new homes and, together, the organisations building social housing form a large and powerful client base.

New Zealand does not have investment on this level. Our challenge is to find alternative ways to stimulate consumers into demanding higher standards of housing.

Another challenge for New Zealand is a result of our weathertightness woes. Councils are very risk averse, demanding new housing meets the requirements of NZS 3604 and E2/AS1. To succeed, any New Zealand code for sustainable homes must be easy to implement and address any issues the Building Consent Authorities have with new products or systems.

One thing we do have in common with the UK is the condition of existing housing stock: both desperately need upgrading.

Logo, Code for Sustainable Homes