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Last edited 10 Feb 2021
Building better homes faster
With the government’s aim to increase housing supply to 300,000 new homes per year, Tassos argued that the industry must enter a new era of technology, data collection and advanced standards. Maintaining high standards is critical to safeguarding the health and wellbeing of occupants, as well as to achieving a good reputation for new homes, he said.
He highlighted the recent government cabinet reshuffle which saw another new housing minister appointed to the post – the third in a year – which the industry has to work with. "Changes are unavoidable", he said, "but where do we stand as a sector and what are we trying to achieve? Where is our initiative and pride in the job?"
Barry kicked off by mentioning previous changes in the Approved Documents and how the industry reacted to these – were the amendments appropriate? He added that the current regulatory system for ensuring fire safety in high-rise and complex buildings is “not fit for purpose”, and that any changes need to be considered holistically to avoid knock-on effects.
Interim recommendations: Approved Documents could provide a more streamlined holistic approach and should be presented with clarity akin to the Haynes manuals.
- Lack of clarity around key roles and responsibilities.
- Imbalance between designers/contractors and regulators.
- Competence issues throughout the system.
- Enforcement/sanctions regime is not strong enough.
- Limitation in driving improvements to existing buildings.
Barry added that, “something has gone wrong and reviews have been carried out in a piecemeal fashion since 1966 and rules have chopped and changed ever since”. He explained how regulatory confusion has created a maze with "cracks and shadows" open to interpretation and misunderstandings. "Common sense, plain English and a ‘mix and match’ route to compliance should help”, he said.
- Energy transition: Baxi expects to see an increase in decarbonisation and the rise of district heating. The climate change target of 2050 is in sight and the key points of the Clean Growth Strategy should be considered.
- Digitalisation: “Irresistible” convergence of data and customer propositions, smart and connected functionality in all areas.
- Shift in global economic power: The rise of gas heating in China could impact the pricing and availability of gas boiler products in the western EU market and, therefore, the UK.
Jeff highlighted the issue of the rise of district heating in the urban space and “making best of what we have today”. He said that, “leveraging different types of products into homes” was key, with energy-saving measures paramount.
He said that innovative technologies need to be easy to understand and operate and that the transition from current technologies should be easy. Behavioural psychology is as important as technology: “keeping my home warm for as little cost as possible” is what the consumer seeks. But he recognised that there is a reluctance to invest in low carbon technology; it is primarily a price issue.
He said that the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) will affect what Baxi can offer and introduce the capability to collect data from diverse appliances meaning that the company will be able to offer bespoke advice to their customers. Considering the growth in Alexa demand, Jeff said that the rise in smart controls and smart meters is essential - "watch this space".
“Healthy is the new sustainable!”
PRP Architects has carried out research on new home trends and how technology can impact the housing sector. One crucial area identified was health and wellbeing. The research found that physical health was connected to sunlight, colours and home design and the provision of green space. The latter specifically improves mental health and vitality, elevating mood, improving concentration and focus, promoting serenity and relaxation: reducing stress and anxiety.
The optimisation of space, providing places for children to play, offering office space and creating communal areas, should be key considerations in new developments. PRP also found that the factors that most negatively affect physical health in home are indoor air quality, poor thermal comfort, noise and overcrowding. Links were identified between factors such as dust mites, moisture, poor ventilation and allergies, mental illness and compromised sleep quality.
While a BRE study found that 20% of people would pay more for a sustainable home, PRP found that 30% of people would pay more for a healthy home, making health and wellbeing considerations vital for housebuilders and designers.
As mentioned, multi-generational living offers a range of opportunities to house builders, from targeting of suitable existing homes to designing new homes with flexible layouts to suit different household compositions. These all should be considered.
Pennie presented findings from Whitehill and Bordon new town. The town was historically an army town with 14,000 residents, 46 miles from London, but the army left in 2015. The council is planning to regenerate the area into a ‘green’ and ‘healthy’ new town.
The newly-formed Whitehill and Bordon Regeneration Company led to 3,000 jobs being created and supported tackling construction skills gap. Builders are “being challenged to deliver advanced standards and high quality”. The revamp will incorporate a new town centre, secondary school, leisure centre and skate park. The green space around the town will be safeguarded.
In particular, the new Quebec Park housing development, part of Whitehill and Bordon, is a national exemplar of Zero Carbon Homes. One hundred new energy efficient homes are expected to deliver a comfortable and sustainable living, offering low energy bills and producing at least 45% less carbon emission compared to building regulations limits. Higher water efficiency standards have also been used – with an 18% reduction in water consumption expected over that of a new build home.
Pennie highlighted the importance of aspiration and strong partnership between all stakeholders, the only way to delivering robust and holistic new home solutions with the occupant’s health, comfort and wellbeing at the very centre.
Bevan Jones, Managing Director, Sustainable Homes
Bevan gave the “definition of a housing crisis” – the turning point of a disease when an important change takes place, indicating either “recovery or death” – and questioned both the “quantity and quality” of house building in the last 10 to 15 years.
Bevan cited last year’s government Housing White Paper and the independent Bonfield Review as tools to identify challenges. The government’s Committee on Climate Change, the role of housing and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change were also discussed.
He suggested that – as an industry – we need to be more “critical and sharp”. Indeed, the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 was now “front and centre” in the industry. Something positive must come out of this in terms of quality and customer safety.
Recent research indicated:
- The construction sector has increased productivity by 11% in 25 years – the figure for the rest of the UK economy was 40%+.
- The housing sector is “largely inefficient” – it can grow revenues, but at the expense of efficiency.
- The housing construction sector is behind in its knowledge and implementation of modern methods of construction (MMC).
- Housing associations keep building to high standards – but other tenures are just catching up.
- The sector sacrifices sustainability for growth as they are viewed as incompatible – this need to change.
- The housing sector is slow to manage, audit and in interrogating its supply chains.
- The housing sector is at high risk of stranding its assets through inappropriate approaches to heating and management.
Bevan wrapped up by calling on industry to be more open minded to different models of delivery; for example, offsite and MMC. The fall in quality “opens the door” for a new standard. Different technologies and the introduction of manufacturing processes should be exploited to achieve a change in culture in the housing industry.
This event followed on from the success of BSRIA’s first Building Better Homes Faster event that took place in July 2017. Building Better Homes Faster 3 is taking place on Friday 13th July 2018 at Thomson Reuters, Canary Wharf.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- BSRIA articles on Designing Buildings Wiki.
- BSRIA and social housing.
- Building performance evaluation in domestic buildings.
- Interview with Julia Evans, BSRIA.
- New Homes Quality Board.
- Overheating in residential properties.
- TG10 2016 At a glance, wellbeing.
- The problems with smart buildings.
- What we know about wellbeing.
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