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Ban gas heating in new homes to lower carbon says influential government advisor

Committee on Climate Change calls for acceleration of low-carbon heating technology adoption and training, as well as a ban on adding new homes to the gas grid

The influential independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has said that the government must ’act now to improve the quality of UK homes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions’ - and that includes stepping up low-carbon heating technology and the skills to design and install it.

It has published a new report ‘UK housing: Fit for the future?’ in which it makes a provocative call for new buildings: “From 2025 at the latest, no new homes should be connected to the gas grid. They should be heated using low-carbon energy sources, have ultra-high levels of energy efficiency alongside appropriate ventilation, and be timber-framed where possible. New laws are needed to reduce overheating risks in new buildings…”

The report warns that the UK’s legally-binding climate change targets will not be met without the near-complete elimination of greenhouse gas emissions from UK buildings. The report finds that emissions reductions from the UK’s 29 million homes have stalled, while energy use in homes – which accounts for 14 per cent of total UK emissions – increased between 2016 and 2017. It goes on to make a series of bold - and at times provocative - calls to action.

The CCC found that around 4.5 million homes overheat, and cost-effective measures to adapt the UK housing stock are not being rolled-out at anywhere near the required level.

It said that the technology and knowledge to create high quality, low-carbon and resilient homes exists, ’but current policies and standards are failing to drive either the scale or the pace of change needed’.

The Committeedoes not pull its punches in calling for change. It said: ”Home insulation installations have stalled; key policies, like the ‘zero carbon homes’ scheme, have been weakened or withdrawn; policies to encourage property-level flood protection, water efficiency devices and window shading are weak or non-existent; UK building standards are inadequate, overly complex and not enforced; and local authorities, faced with insufficient resources, are largely failing to address the need for low-emission, climate change resilient homes.”

The report identifies five priorities for government action, several of which are aimed squarely at HVAC areas.  There are:

1. Performance and compliance. ”The way new homes are built and existing homes retrofitted often falls short of stated design standards,” the report says, ”This deceives householders and inflicts new costs in the future.”

It says that closing the ‘performance gap’ could save households in new homes between £70 and £260 in energy bills each year. It also calls for widespread inspection and enforcement of building standards, ’with stiffer penalties for non-compliance’. It notes: “The required further tightening of building standards will have little impact if these issues are left unresolved.”

2. Skills gap. ”The chopping and changing of UK Government policy has led to a skills gap in housing design, construction and in the installation of new technologies. Important steps in reducing emissions are being held back as a result”

The report says: “The UK Government should launch a nationwide training programme and use initiatives under the Industrial Strategy’s Construction Sector Deal to plug this gap; by investing in new support to train designers, builders and installers of low-carbon heating, and measures to improve energy and water-efficiency, ventilation, thermal comfort and property-level flood protection.”

3. Retrofitting existing homes. Ensuring existing homes are low-carbon and resilient to the changing climate is a major UK infrastructure priority, and must be supported as such by the Treasury, the committee says: ”Homes should make use of low-carbon sources of heating such as heat pumps and heat networks. The uptake of energy efficiency measures, such as loft and wall insulation, must be accelerated. Upgrades and repairs to existing homes should include plans for shading and ventilation, measures to reduce indoor moisture, improved air quality and water efficiency and, in homes at risk of flooding, property-level flood protection.”

4. Building new homes. New homes should be built to be low-carbon, energy and water efficient, and climate resilient the report says: ”The costs of building to tight specifications are not prohibitive, and getting the design right from the outset is far cheaper than retrofitting later.”

5. Finance and funding. There are urgent funding gaps which must be addressed, including secure UK Government funding for low-carbon sources of heating beyond 2021, and better resources for local authorities – particularly ‘building control’ departments. 

Householders can also make a big difference, even with small changes, the report notes. This includes setting boilers to the correct temperature…”

Baroness Brown, Chair of the CCC’s Adaptation Committee, said: “Major improvements in how we design, build and use our homes are needed to meet these challenges. We have highlighted the need for appropriate sources of finance and funding – and a national training programme to ensure we have the building and construction skills required in the UK. Climate change will not wait while we consider our options – the nationwide shift we need to make UK homes climate-ready must start today.”

Lord Deben, Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, said: “Simply put, there is no way in which the UK can meet the legally-binding climate change targets that Parliament has determined unless we take the measures outlined in this report.”

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