The rationale for sustainable housing

The imperatives of climate change mean that our building technologies need to evolve to meet the demands of climate change predictions, while simultaneously reducing the contribution they make to CO2 emissions. Housing plays a significant part in the UK's emissions profile (DCLG, 2007a). In 2005, 27% of the UK's CO2 emissions (around 150 million tonnes a year) were attributed to heating, lighting and running domestic buildings; of this, almost three-quarters comes from space and water heating, and while appliances and lighting accounts for only around 22% of domestic emissions, current trends are for this to rise with new technologies such as digital radios, plasma TVs and air conditioning requiring higher energy inputs (DCLG, 2007a). In 2007 the UK's Department for Communities and Local Government published its blueprint for new housing over the coming 15 years entitled 'Homes for the Future: more affordable, more sustainable' (DCLG, 2007b), and an accompanying policy statement 'Building A Greener Future' (DCLG, 2007a). It identifies a growing housing shortage in the UK, caused by a combination of falling house-building rates, and rising numbers of households, many of them single-person households. The report sets out house-building targets of two million new homes by 2016 and a further million by 2020, but stipulates that homes must also become more energy-efficient to meet the government's Climate Change Bill targets for reducing CO2 emissions to 60% of their 1990 levels by 2050. In the UK, while only around 1% of homes are built each year, by 2050 up to a third of the UK's homes will have been built since the present day, and 'we need a revolution in the way be build, design and power our homes' (DCLG, 2007b: 9). Therefore, in conjunction with its voluntary Code for Sustainable Homes (DCLG, 2008), the UK government aims to set progressively higher emissions-reduction targets through its building regulations, and so encourage improved standards in new-build housing, to achieve 'zero carbon' homes by 2016 (this is defined as zero net carbon emissions from all energy use in the home over a year, and applies at the level of the development, not the individual home, and at present does not permit offsetting to achieve the targets (DCLG, 2007a)).

There are social and economic, as well as environmental drivers for sustainable housing. Energy prices have risen dramatically in recent years, with average UK household gas bills rising by 109%, and electricity bills by 70%, between January 2003 and March 2008, with average annual household fuel bills amounting to £1060, resulting in a rise in fuel poverty. Energy-related indebtedness (measured in terms of consumers owing more than £600 on their utility bills) has risen sharply in line with these increases: between 2004 and 2007 it rose by 64% for electricity consumers, and by 19% for gas customers (Energywatch, 2008). At the same time, water supplies have been stressed in south-eastern England in particular (due to high population density, high levels of water use, increase in households and low rainfall), and across the UK water and sewerage prices have risen accordingly at above-inflation levels (see www.ofwat.gov.uk). Borrowing the language of carbon-neutrality, the UK government is implementing measures to promote 'water neutrality' in areas of new development to offset the water resource impacts of building new housing, with water conservation efforts such as rainwater harvesting, water conservation and metering. The aim is that the total water demand is unchanged after the development (Environment Agency, 2008).

Projections for the future indicate that these trends will worsen. Climate change is expected to bring more periods of extreme hot weather in summer, with peak summer temperatures up to 7°C higher by the 2080s than today, and the summer 2003 European heatwave when temperatures reached 38°C in the UK for the first time, would become the norm (Hulme et al., 2002). Given these changing conditions, the buildings we live and work in may not be able to cope with extreme high temperatures in the summer. In the UK air conditioning is becoming normalised in workplaces, particularly in the south of England, to maintain thermal comfort, and their use is predicted to spread to domestic buildings over the next few decades. A recent modelling study found that in traditional 19th century terraced houses, and 1960s-built houses, the reduced need for heating over the next

80 years is offset by increased energy use for air-conditioning, resulting in overall increases in emissions of 30-40% by the 2080s (Hacker et al., 2005). These calculations point to the need to retro-fit existing buildings, and design new ones in ways which do not rely on air conditioning to maintain thermal comfort, but rather draw on cooling socio-technologies traditionally employed in warmer climates, such as shading from the sun, thermal mass to stabilise temperature, passive heating and cooling systems, and afternoon siestas (ibid.; SDC, 2006).

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