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Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from buildings will need to be reduced by 24% by 2030 if the UK is to meet its net zero commitments. However, the residential building sector has failed to achieve the emissions reductions seen in other areas. The majority of energy demands in residential buildings come from the need for space and water heating. Currently, 90% of homes in England use fossil fuels, with 85% connected to the gas grid. The CCC has recommended that no new homes be connected to the gas grid from 2025. Since 85% of existing homes in the UK are expected to still be in use by 2050, the CCC has stated that 29 million existing homes will need to have been retrofitted by 2050 in order to meet net zero targets. This is addition to any new homes promised or currently being built, which will need to be retrofitted in the future if not built to standards compatible with net zero targets. 

Building efficiency is determined by the design and construction of the building envelope (floors, walls, doors, windows and roof), methods of heat production and distribution, and electricity and water usage within the building. However, environmental housing performance is determined by more than just building efficiency. Alongside GHG emissions and energy efficiency, a home must also be a functional, liveable space for its occupants. Both its internal features, such as the layout, relationship and access to the outside and the usability of controls, as well as a building’s location in the wider environment, are important in determining its liveability. 

In England, building standards are governed by the Building Regulations 2010, which set out approved standards for energy efficiency, emissions, ventilation, acoustics and safety. Every home, when it is sold or rented, is required to have an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), comprising a predicted fuel cost-based efficiency rating and a rating based on predicted carbon emissions. As part of the Clean Growth Strategy, the Government’s aspiration is that as many homes as possible be upgraded to EPC Band C by 2035. Latest Government data suggest 60% of homes in England are currently at EPC Band D or worse. Other key governance areas include funding for energy efficiency retrofits and support for skills and training. The Future Homes Standard (FHS) is the Government’s strategy for new homes and will outline changes to the Building Regulations. It will apply to all new buildings from 2025, achieving a reduction of 75-80% in CO2 emissions, with an interim change expected to apply from June 2022 that aims to reduce emissions by 30% compared to current levels. 

Key points 

  • The environmental performance of homes is responsible for 13% of UK greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but energy efficiency is just one aspect of this. 
  • Occupant behaviour, liveability and impacts on the natural environment should be considerations in building design. 
  • The design and fabric of a building have significant impacts on residents’ health, wellbeing and comfort. 
  • Adequate metrics, standards and appropriate funding are needed to ensure that retrofit and new development projects produce homes that are fit for the future. 
  • Constructing a sustainable housing stock presents opportunities for job creation, to improve the health and wellbeing of residents and to deliver the Government’s environmental ambitions. 

Acknowledgements 

POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including: 

Professor Fionn Stevenson, University of Sheffield* 

Dr Gavin Killip, University of Oxford* 

Dr Hans-Jochen Luhmann, Wuppertal Institut 

Dr Esra Kurul, Oxford Brookes University 

Hywel Lloyd, Active Building Centre* 

Professor Elizabeth Shove, Lancaster University 

Rebecca Lydon, Hydrock 

Vishak Dudhee, Teesside University 

Professor Linda Clarke, University of Westminster* 

Dr Christopher Wood, University of Nottingham 

Jon Warren, Energiesprong UK 

Amy Gray, BRE Group* 

Professor Lucelia Rodrigues, University of Nottingham 

George Munson, Leeds City Council 

Simon Corbey, Alliance for Sustainable Building Products 

Phoebe MacDonald, Royal Institute of British Architects* 

Nic Cole, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government 

Al Lama, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government 

Professor Mark Gillott, University of Nottingham 

Lydia Makin, Waterwise 

Dr Gemma Jerome, Building with Nature 

Mark Ireland, Leeds City Council* 

John Palmer, Passivhaus Trust 

Julian Brooks, Good Homes Alliance 

Professor Steve Evans, University of Cambridge 

Dr Sarah Royston, Anglia Ruskin University 

Alison Smith, University of Oxford 

John Slaughter, Home Builders Federation 

* denotes people and organisations who acted as external reviewers of the briefing 


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