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Residential Developers’ Drive For Sustainability Is Working, But Needs To Be Embedded From The Start


The universal drive for sustainability is forcing rapid change in the residential development sector. Whether developing single houses or build-to-rent schemes, new and future regulations are calling for the use of greener methods and materials. Consumers are increasing the pressure — 72% of homeowners say that sustainable features are important to them.

The sector is all too aware of this pressure and many developers are willing to take on the challenge, NHBC Head of Standards, Innovation and Research Richard Smith said. But the road toward sustainability is not without its bumps.

“Developers and housebuilders are embracing change but are struggling under the weight of all the unknowns,” he said. “There’s a fear that if they don’t get it right, this could impact the industry where new dwellings fail to meet standards. However, if their willingness to try new concepts is embedded in the design process from the start, risks can be greatly reduced.”

There are many sustainability challenges facing residential housebuilders today, not least the move from gas to electricity. From 2025, all new homes will have heat pumps instead of gas boilers, which is a costly difference that will need to be offset by improved energy usage. Smith said that other challenges include the need to tackle overheating through enhanced ventilation systems and reduce embodied carbon.

From a regulatory perspective, in July 2022 Part L of building regulations was introduced. All new homes must now produce 31% less carbon emissions than what was previously acceptable.

“Part L is a midway point to the Futures Homes Standard, which will come in in 2025,” Smith said. “It’s a 75% improvement on pre-2022 regulations and is part of the pathway towards net-zero carbon for new dwellings by 2030. It is, however, an aggressive path and quite a step change for the industry.”


The need to act fast is clear and the industry has responded, Smith said. The Future Homes Standard Working Group is coming up with solutions to help the industry prepare for the arrival of the Future Homes Standard in 2025. Some developers are experimenting with modern methods of construction while others are experimenting with new technologies and materials.

“Developers are also trying out different new tools to see how homeowners could manage their future home,” Smith said. “Sustainability isn’t just about in-use performance, but the overall control the owner has. Can they control the heating system effectively and reduce energy use?”

Technologies that could be used include infrared heating, shower systems that use less water and smart water storage. Developers have the end user in mind and are carrying out trials to see how these innovations work in reality, Smith said.

Barratt Developments has created a concept house that could reduce carbon usage by up to 125%. The housebuilder constructed the first of these concept houses in Salford, Manchester, which will be inhabited by students from the local university. The aim is to gain insights into sustainable living. Other developers’ trials are looking at biodiversity and placemaking, to examine sustainability from all angles.

The need to improve environmental performance is just as acute for the BTR sector as it is for the development of family homes. In this case, the developer will have additional financial reasons to focus on sustainability.

“Asset managers will hold a property for a long time, so it is in their interests for it to be efficiently run,” Smith said. “They will save costs in the future. It’s also important to have data, analyse portfolios and assess the way they’re run so there is a huge need for smart energy systems, for example.”

Much of the technology required needs to be included early in the design process to be effective, such as the installation of heat sensors in the right places. A developer could install a district heating system to provide greater control of energy use as part of a centralised building system. NHBC works with developers from RIBA stage 3 to provide long-term asset protection.

“By tackling sustainability early and working with us, developers of all residential assets will be able to reduce the risk of a substandard environmental performance,” Smith said. “They will ensure that dwellings will stand the test of time as regulations are only going to increase.”

This article was produced in collaboration between NHBC and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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