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Last edited 31 Jan 2021
Sustainability is a broad term describing a desire to carry out activities without depleting resources or having harmful impacts, defined by the Brundtland Commission as 'meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.' (ref. Brundtland Commission, Our Common Future, 1987). Some broader descriptions include social and economic welfare although these can confuse the basic issue of the depletion of resources.
Sustainable home is also a very broad term and many factors may contribute to making a home sustainable, but generally it is a home that has been constructed sustainably, and has a relatively small carbon footprint. This will be enhanced – or not as the case may be – by the way its owners operate it. The definition may even include a home that generates – through various means – more power than it consumes, thereby being able to give electricity back to the national grid.
Other factors in combination with the above may go to making a home sustainable. Its owners or occupiers may use the latest energy saving devices, have smart meters installed to monitor their energy usage and enjoy a high degree of interconnectivity between their appliances and other systems via the internet of things.
These factors are just some of a wide range that can go toward making a home sustainable. There is not at the time of writing a checklist which may be applied that will classify whether a home is sustainable or not. The UK government’s Code for Sustainable Homes guidance which was an assessment method for rating the environmental performance of new homes and covered nine categories of sustainable design was withdrawn in April 2015. However, the nine categories may still serve as a voluntary framework. They are:
- Energy and carbon dioxide emissions.
- Surface water run-off.
- Health and wellbeing.
 Assessing sustainability
- Construction – made from high-performance, energy-saving materials and from materials that have a very low, embodied energy content, especially those that have been recycled (e.g reclaimed bricks and slates from former buildings); innovative use of materials and construction techniques e.g shipping containers can be used to form the external shell; incorporation of geothermal piles as part of the foundations to act as a heat source and a heat sink where the ground’s thermal mass allows the building to store unwanted heat from cooling systems and allows heat pumps to warm the building in winter.
- Building orientation can maximise solar gain but should be allied with the judicious use of shading devices e.g louvres, brise soleils, plants, trees etc.
- Hi-tech materials e.g insulation – probably one of the most important constituent materials and can drastically cut heating costs in winter and reduce heat gains in summer.
Other features can include:
- Energy efficient windows and glazing.
- Condensing boilers.
- Heat pumps.
- Roof-mounted photovoltaics or solar thermal panels.
- Eco-friendly lighting for reduced energy consumption (e.g LED lighting, compact fluorescents, motion sensors, etc).
- Economic water usage e.g low-flow showerheads and taps, low-flush toilets and so on.
- Programmable thermostats.
- Rainwater harvesting and grey-water recycling to reduce water consumption and minimise the burden to the public drainage system.
- Appliance interconnectivity with remote activation (Internet of Things)
- Reduce-reuse-recycle as part of the occupants’ daily routine.
- Design for deconstruction.
- Passive design measures.
- Wind turbines.
In December 2006, the Labour government committed that from 2016 all new homes would be ‘zero carbon’ and introduced the Code for Sustainable Homes, against which the sustainability of new homes could be rated. However, this commitment was subsequently dropped. For more information see: Zero carbon homes.
On 30 April 2019, the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) published Net Zero Carbon Buildings: A framework definition, a framework for the UK construction industry to transition new and existing buildings to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. For more information see: Net zero carbon building
One of the more controversial aspects of some definitions of sustainable homes is the degree to which negative impacts can be offset by on site or offsite mitigation measures or by payment. For example, whether on-site energy consumption can be legitimately offset by off-site energy generation.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Approved documents.
- Building Regulations.
- Consequential improvements.
- Cork House.
- Dwelling Emission Rates.
- Eco town.
- Energy certificates.
- Green deal.
- Home Quality Mark.
- Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
- Lifetime homes.
- Lifetime neighbourhoods.
- Moving towards green residential buildings.
- Nationally described space standard.
- NHBC technical standards.
- Roof insulation.
- Ska rating.
- Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems.
- Zero carbon homes.
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