Out-Law News 5 min. read

Future homes and buildings standards for England proposed

New housing estate aerial photo SEO

Photo by Chris Gorman/Getty Images

The installation of fossil fuel-powered boilers in new buildings in England is to be prohibited from 2025, the UK government has confirmed.

According to the long-awaited consultation on technical standards  for new Future Homes and Future Buildings Standards, low-carbon heat pumps or heat networks will provide heat to new  homes in England from 2025 onwards instead. For new non-domestic property, heat will also be provided by heat pumps, or for ‘top-lit’ property, radiant electric heating and heat networks. Alternatives, such as hybrid and hydrogen-ready boilers, “will not meet the proposed standards”, the government said.

However, while its proposed performance requirements for new buildings envisage new buildings being powered by renewables and other low-carbon energy sources, the government is not at this stage mandating installation of rooftop solar panels on all new homes. Instead, it sets out two options – one with, and one without, rooftop solar – and seeks views on the preferred option.  Blocks of flats over 15 storeys tall would be exempt from any rooftop solar requirement. For non-domestic property, the government is intending to mandate rooftop solar, giving two options for specified percentages of roof cover and recommending the higher level of coverage.

The proposals also address other factors relevant to a building’s energy efficiency and performance, such as airtightness, building fabric, ventilation, and lighting, with minimum standards planned for each but a degree of flexibility for developers on how they meet the standards – including for different kinds of buildings. The government said it is not intended that these aspects, particularly in relation to building fabric, are significantly different from the 2021 Building Regulations Part L uplift.

In its consultation paper, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities said the standards proposed “can put us on the right path to net zero by 2050 and allow us to take advantage of these opportunities”, citing how “higher standards of energy efficiency and moving to cleaner sources of heat allow us to continue to improve the quality of our buildings and reduce running costs for occupants, keeping energy bills and down and ensuring buildings are warm and comfortable to live in”. Importantly, the consultation maintains that new buildings built to the proposed standards “will need no retrofitting as the electricity grid decarbonises”.

However, the department acknowledged that build costs are likely to increase. Where it has presented different options for elements of the new standards it proposes to introduce, the government has set out estimates for how they affect build costs but also the potential energy efficiency and emission reduction benefits that can be derived and resultant cost savings to building occupiers from operating the buildings.

The Future Homes Standard (FHS) will apply to new residential buildings, including homes and blocks of flats, while the Future Buildings Standard (FBS) would apply to all other new non-domestic buildings.

The consultation also contains proposals to apply the new standards to dwellings created by “material changes of use” as defined in the Building Regulations, noting that 28,000 homes were created in this way in 2020-21 and were generally less energy efficient and produced more carbon. Views are sought on the best way to apply the standards to material changes of use creating dwellings and to extending this to material changes of use creating student or patient accommodation, care homes and hotels.

“With the move towards increasing re-use of existing buildings, it is important that we do not create a large category of ‘new’ dwellings and residential accommodation which is not as energy efficient as reasonably possible with decarbonised heat sources,” said Siobhan Cross of Pinsent Masons. The consultation recognises that existing building features may present challenges and suggests these are recognised via different standards for different types of existing building.

The consultation considers the metrics which underpin the existing Part L standards and concludes these are still consistent with policy intentions. However, there is a concurrent consultation for a new “Home Energy Model” to replace the existing new homes Standard Assessment Procedure for assessing energy efficiency, and some limited changes proposed for the non-domestic calculation methodology.

The consultation proposes that the heat pump efficiencies and lighting efficiencies requirements would apply to existing non-domestic buildings and that for both domestic and non-domestic buildings minimum Part L building services standards would apply to lifts, escalators and moving walkways not currently covered in the Building Regulations.

The consultation also deals with “performance gap” issues, recognising that poor build quality or poor commissioning of fixed building services is sometimes the cause of these. A voluntary system of post occupancy testing is proposed, with it envisaged that the results are made public, and if there were to be any “Future Homes Standard” brand this might only be available to those who had carried out such voluntary testing.

In relation to heat networks, the consultation paper makes it clear that new buildings can only connect to existing or new heat networks which can demonstrate they are adding new low carbon technologies or have existing unused low carbon heat, with a sleeving system proposed to apply to connections of new buildings to such heat networks.

“Heat network developers should take note of this proposal which will affect connections of new buildings once the new FHS and FBS come into force – even if it would seem in relation to agreements for connection entered prior to those new standards coming into force,” said Cross.

The government plans to implement the two new standards at the same time, with legislation to be laid in 2024 and come into force in at some point in 2025. It seeks feedback on whether the new standards should come into force six months or up to 12 months after the regulations are laid in parliament. A 12-month transitional period would thereafter apply “to allow industry sufficient time to adapt whilst also driving forward progress towards our 2050 net zero target”, the government said. As was the case for the 2021 uplift, the transitional arrangements would only operate on an individual building basis and not on a site-wide basis. They would only apply where specified relevant Building Regulation documents had been lodged with the local authority and where work had “commenced”, as defined in section 46A of the Building Regulations 2010, within the transitional period.

The issue of embodied carbon and water efficiency were treated as out of scope of this consultation and will be dealt with elsewhere, according to the government. A consultation on the former has been promised in due course.

The government’s proposals, which are open to consultation until 6 March 2024, received criticism from one industry body, with deputy chief executive of the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) Simon McWhirter commenting that the standards proposed “can’t genuinely be described as a ‘future’ standard” as they would “deliver ‘future’ homes from 2025 at a lower standard than many homes already built today”. He added: “The best developers have spent years and millions gearing up for modern green building standards which shows that higher standards are possible. UKGBC will be convening our members to submit a detailed response to the consultation that sets out how higher standards can be practical, affordable and protect climate and nature.” 

We are processing your request. \n Thank you for your patience. An error occurred. This could be due to inactivity on the page - please try again.