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Problem must be solved before setting standards for zero-carbon construction

Perhaps the key observation we can make when we read the Treasury’s Productivity Plan is that a concerted effort is being made to avoid encumbering house-builders with any avoidable financial burdens.

In the current market, the unfortunate reality is that it tends to cost significantly more to build a low-carbon property than a less efficient one.

For this reason, although the end to zero-carbon homes might be seen as a blow to long-term targets to reduce the UK’s emissions, the postponement of this proposal is perhaps understandable as the government bids to boost the number of new homes being built by lessening the financial constrictions on the sector.

The decision not to update the Building Regulations is another consequence of this decision and is necessary until the objective or target returns. This gives us a situation where housebuilders no longer have the financial burden of building to zero carbon and associated industries do not have the burden of legislative uncertainty.

The carbon-neutral properties that have already been built have not come without their difficulties, and these will need to be ironed out before the standard can be reintroduced.

Overheating, condensation and humidity issues in certain zero-carbon property types are the sort of teething problems we need to overcome before we attempt to build to these standards on a large scale.

It could even be argued that in some cases, we have been attempting to build zero-carbon homes using materials that were not designed for this purpose.

In that respect, it is a good thing that we can allow technology and the behavioural habits of homeowners to develop organically before enforcing zero carbon.

The most sensible and simple approach arguably concerns existing properties rather than new build, and that would be to ensure all standard-efficiency boilers are replaced by condensing models before we then look to enhance our energy use further using renewables.

While the allowable solutions element of the previous proposal may have seemed like a good middle ground and a practical way of contributing to overall CO2 savings, the solutions themselves were likely to have proved too costly to make any real impact.

Taking a more consistent and measured approach that optimises our use of the existing gas network rather than bypasses it altogether is certainly a sensible way forward. Getting the building industry moving again has to be the short-term priority.

Martyn Bridges is the director of marketing and technical support at Worcester, Bosch Group

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