Back in 2006, the UK government introduced new regulations requiring homebuilders to implement specific on-site strategies to make homes "zero carbon" by a certain target date. Up through 2008, the requirements placed on homebuilders made it nearly impossible to reach the zero carbon goal without making the cost of home building unaffordable. Thankfully, those goals were revisited and altered a few years ago.
At the same time, the altered regulations do not offer builders much by way of relief because goals are still vague and unquantified. The result in 2013 is a residential home building industry that is reluctant to press forward until regulators provide some definitive direction. That is not helpful in a country where a glaring housing shortage shows no signs of diminishing.
Zero Carbon 2016
Zero Carbon Hub, an online partnership between government regulators and private industry, explains the reality of today's zero carbon plans. They have a large collection of official documents laying out the "official steps" needed to reach zero carbon status among UK homes by 2016. However, those plans may be stifling the home building business.
At the heart of the problem, according to the building industry, is the dithering shown by government officials in their introduction of new energy efficiency standards. Those standards were supposed to be released in April of this year; have now been delayed at least until August.
Industry sources have said the delays potentially threaten the construction of tens of thousands of new homes this year. Builders are fearful of moving forward with aggressive construction due to:
- Proposed Tighter Regulations - If the ministers making the zero carbon decisions deliver on their promises it will mean a completely new round of more expensive equipment, new training for employees, and developing new standards for home construction. Builders do not want to be in the midst of the summer construction season only to find these new regulations thrust upon them.
- Failed Promises - On the other hand, should construction companies begin to invest now in anticipation of tighter regulations they may be wasting money and effort should the ministers be less astringent with the new regulations than expected. The last thing builders want to do is waste time and money.
- Housing Uncertainty - The lack of action by the UK government has brought such a level of uncertainty to the housing industry that it is becoming very difficult for builders to attract new investment capital. Investors do not want to risk their money when faced with real possibility that the housing market could be drastically changed before the end of the year.
What Goes into a Zero Carbon Home
The idea of the zero carbon home is to create a modern living space with a net carbon output of zero. The term "net carbon output" is important due to the fact that it's nearly impossible for carbon-based life forms (i.e. human beings) to live a completely carbon free existence. Under the "net carbon output,” the typical carbon zero home is one that puts off minimal amounts of carbon will being offset by other carbon reduction strategies.
Building a carbon zero home basically consists of three things:
- Energy Efficiency - Of the three components, this is the one most focused on by homebuilders. Energy efficiency includes things like proper insulation, double glazed windows, energy efficient appliances, and so on. The purpose of the energy-efficient home is to reduce the amount of energy used; thereby also reducing a home's carbon foot print.
- Carbon Compliance - The principle of carbon compliance is to introduce strategies to reduce the amount of carbon produced on-site. For example, a housing development might be connected to a municipal heating source rather than generating its own heat with a carbon-producing furnace. Carbon compliance requires builders to think in terms of partnerships with cities, towns, and other organizations.
- Allowable Solutions - At the heart of the government's post 2008 revised regulations is the idea of allowable solutions. This concept is aimed at encouraging builders to implement carbon-reducing strategies that will lower a home's overall carbon production even if they cannot eliminate carbon production completely. These types of solutions include things like energy storage systems, smart appliances, renewable power sources, and reforestation.
In theory, building a zero carbon home is possible. It has been demonstrated for more than forty years by an organization known as Earthship Biotecture. Yet the main difficulty with the zero carbon homes has still not been overcome, despite the best efforts of green designers and architects: mass production for the metropolitan environment.
The simple fact of the matter is that it is extremely difficult to reach zero carbon ideal when you have millions of people packed into a major city. Certainly, carbon output can be reduced, but it cannot be eliminated without completely levelling our cities and starting over. And that is just not practically feasible. Things like the zero carbon home objective is certainly a worthwhile goal to achieve, but it is a mere drop in the vast carbon ocean.
Reducing Your Carbon Footprint and Home
Assuming you probably live in a home that is nowhere near the zero carbon standards, is it reasonable to assume there is anything you can do to reduce your carbon footprint. Absolutely. There are little things all of us can do to contribute to reducing the overall total carbon output of the UK. In so doing, we will also enjoy lower utility bills.
Consider the following strategies:
- Power Microgeneration - The government has gone out of its way to encourage microgeneration among UK homeowners by offering lower energy tariffs and other incentives. Microgeneration can be accomplished using photovoltaic solar panels, wind turbines, water turbines, and biomass options. Excess power can be sold back to your utility provider.
- Energy Storage - In the same league as microgeneration is the principal of energy storage. By installing energy storage devices a home can collect and store energy overnight, when demand is lower, and use that storage capacity during the day to meet energy needs.
- Home Improvements - Individual homeowners can reduce their carbon footprint by investing in home improvements to make their houses more energy efficient. The most common home improvements include insulating the roof and loft, replacing all the windows with energy efficient models, and taking advantage of landscaping for temperature regulation.
- New Appliances - When appliances need to be replaced, consumers should consider purchasing energy efficient "smart" models. Smart appliances cost a little bit more on the showroom floor but they reduce carbon output and save money in the long run. The same can be said for boilers and furnaces.
- New Behaviours - Perhaps the easiest thing each of us can do to reduce our carbon footprint is to alter some of our energy wasting behaviours. That includes things like turning off the lights when they are not needed, unplugging passive energy consuming devices, and purchasing our energy from green suppliers when available.
With every individual homeowner or renter working to reduce his or her carbon output, the collective footprint of the entire nation can be reduced. Meanwhile, it is up to government ministers to stop dithering and start coming up with a real strategy and a solid energy policy with no ambiguity.
Purchasing Energy from Green Suppliers
While we are waiting on the introduction of the new regulations slated for later this year, green energy suppliers are available to help individual homeowners contribute through more sensible energy purchases. There are a small handful of dedicated green energy providers throughout the UK that purchase electricity from a variety of green sources and make it available over the grid.
In addition, most of the main players in brown energy also contribute to the grid using at least a limited amount of purchased green power. Those that are contributing to the green energy platform have the appropriate tariffs available to their customers.
You can shop around for green energy by using a comparison website or simply running an Internet search using your favourite search engine. There are enough options that most homeowners and renters should be able to find something. Purchasing energy from a green supplier is good both in the fact that saves consumers money, and also in that it encourages brown energy suppliers to think more green.
There is no telling whether the government will show more responsibility and provide the housing industry with definitive and thorough regulations this spring. One hopes they will. In the absence of that direction, the summer building season may not live up to its potential. That would be a shame.
Homebuilders are ready and willing to implement the regulations as soon as they are made available. The longer the ministers wait, the more difficult it becomes for builders to invest money and resources they could very well lose if they guess incorrectly. So it comes down to this: the government needs to stop dragging its feet and get the new regulations solidified and published as soon as possible.
The following links will give you some more information about the zero carbon goals and what they mean to you. Please take the time to read and understand what this is all about so you are fully prepared for what is coming. You may have some important decisions to make if you are planning to build a home in the future.
UK Green Building Council - Offers a good explanation of the carbon zero ideals and where the home building industry is headed. There is lots of additional information above and beyond zero carbon dealing with all sorts of green building topics.
GOV.UK -This site was put together by the Department for Communities and Local Government to provide information about zero carbon and non-domestic buildings. Although the page is a few years old, the information is still fairly accurate.
Zero Carbon Britain - A site brought to you by the Centre for Alternative Technology. Zero Carbon Britain is marketed as a policy framework designed to help eliminate fossil fuel emissions by the year 2030.
Building.co.uk - This page looks at three real-world examples of three homes built to zero carbon standards. They serve as an illustration to show how realistic the government's zero carbon goals for 2016 are.
Construction Products Association - A trade group for builders and companies that deal in construction products. They offer information about carbon zero homes and other important topics for both builders and suppliers.
Camco Clean Energy - Camco published a 2009 article about carbon zero housing originally found in Energy World Magazine on this page. It is a thoughtful piece providing some insight not found elsewhere.
ThinkInsulation.com - This website is sponsored by UK-based Knauf Insulation. In addition to providing insulation products, the company is very active in educating consumers about energy efficiency, zero carbon building, etc.
You might be interested in contributing to the country's zero carbon goals by purchasing your energy from a green supplier. Below are some companies with green energy tariffs you can look at. By following these links, you will be one step closer to helping the UK reduce our carbon footprint.
Green Energy UK - A green energy supplier purchasing its electricity from smaller producers using only sustainable resources. The company purchases electricity from them and resells it to their customers through the UK grid.
Ecotricity - The first company in Britain selling green electricity produced only using renewables. This “not for dividend" enterprise takes all of their profits and puts them into developing new ways to produce green electricity.
Good Energy - Another small electricity provider purchasing its power only from local, green sources. Like the others, they do not deliver electricity straight to your home; they send it to the grid to become part of the UK's normal energy supply.
Ethical Consumer - This is a great site to go to if you want to learn more about the various power companies in the UK. They offer a free downloadable analysis that includes ratings of the power companies, tariff details, carbon emissions for each supplier, and more.