Seven areas where the Future Homes Standard needs more clarity

Tassos Kougionis

The recently published Future Homes and Buildings Standards consultation serves as the built environment’s roadmap to a greener future. Here, Tassos Kougionis outlines several critical considerations and unanswered questions which require both government and industry’s attention.

1. The local versus central question

Recent statements from government ministers Baroness Penn and Lee Rowley seem to support central control over net zero requirements through the revised standards.  However, this top-down approach is at odds with the government’s broader commitment to devolve power to local authorities and the instruction of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).  This also comes in the wake of a High Court ruling this month (February) in favour of campaigners challenging the Planning Inspectorate’s decision on net-zero homes in the Salt Cross Garden Village in Oxfordshire, where the rejected the arguments made by the government’s legal team in support of the local planning inspectorate.

While national regulations set a ‘‘minimum requirement’’ the importance of defending local autonomy in shaping policies that align with both national objectives and the unique needs of individual communities becomes extremely important.

2. Cost of materials 

The impact of how materials are made and used over time is not considered. This is extremely important as the impact of construction of materials needs to be recognised, too.

3. Existing buildings

Both homes and non-domestic buildings need special attention, especially given that most of the country’s building stock is not recent, making reliance solely on cleaner energy insufficient for these existing structures. Although the consultation acknowledges existing buildings, it lacks the necessary detail.

The recent King’s Speech saw the government row back on net zero commitments and further muddied the waters.  More clarity on the direction of travel is urgently required, so investors, owners and occupiers can plan forward. We also need to encourage adaptive re-use and establish robust monitoring and maintenance requirements.

4. Capital cost uplifts and long-term implications

While the focus is on how much it costs to build something new, what is missing is the long-term cost for people who will live in these homes. This should include system replacement cost, maintenance cost, exposure to energy prices and health and wellbeing. Post-occupancy insurances would be welcome along with checks. Addressing fuel poverty and ensuring the positive impacts of these standards reach every corner of society and should be a central focus of our mission.

5. Fabric upgrades and approach to energy efficiency

The Future Homes Standard proposes to eliminate fossil fuel heating systems, promoting the adoption of highly efficient air source heat pumps, or equivalent electric solutions, encouraging widespread use of solar PV panels.  Most of those solutions don’t have a long life expectancy.  For buildings with a heating requirement, improvements to how much heat is lost due to fabric elements should be the focus.

6. User impact of technological emphasis

While technology advancements are all well and good, adding more complex systems might create user experience challenges. Passive elements are easier to use.  Achieving inclusivity requires considering varying levels of familiarity among different population groups. Providing comprehensive home user guides and handover is crucial for maximising the benefits of interconnected systems like PV, smart hot water tanks, heat pumps, ventilation systems, battery technologies, and EV charging. Accessibility to supply chains impacts maintenance, emphasising the need for simplified operations and user-friendly interfaces to ensure widespread adoption and long-term success. More focus on the user/occupier would be welcome.

7. Grid infrastructure resilience

 It’s not just about using cleaner energy; it’s about making sure national and decentralised systems can handle it without any problems and that it is put to best use. Energy efficiency remains a central consideration, as is possibly more decentralised energy management solutions. The recent association of decarbonisation with an all-electric approach, awaiting the UK Electricity grid to decarbonise, poses challenges if implemented incorrectly. This may escalate user running costs, raise concerns about the timing and impact of energy consumption, and prompt questions about addressing these new buildings in the future when they transition to existing structures.