Andrew Potter is the Chief Executive of the Hastoe Housing Association.
It’s great to see the Conservative Government pushing a strong environmental agenda in office.
But there is still much room for improvement on the energy-efficiency of new builds. While carbon emissions are falling across the economy, carbon emissions from buildings actually rose in 2015 and 2016. It’s time for more ambition.
At Hastoe, a specialist rural housing association, we have built over 100 homes to Passivhaus standard since 2011. Passivhaus is a highly energy-efficient method of building, based on good air-tightness with mechanical ventilation, and excellent insulation. The technique uses minimal energy for heating and cooling, as much of the heating in a Passivhaus home comes from “passive” sources like the sun, occupants and household appliances.
While the technique is simple in theory, the results are remarkable. Hastoe has monitored the performance of our first Passivhaus homes, completed in the village of Wimbish in 2011, with the University of East Anglia. The average annual gas bill for houses can be as little as £130, dropping to £62 for the flats. That can amount to a huge annual saving for social housing residents of around £500 (excluding VAT), with affordability built into the fabric of the building – sitting outside of any welfare or rent regime. To put that in perspective, that’s around half the saving that the rises in the income tax personal allowance have generated since 2010.
For a rural housing association like us, the benefits are significant. Rural areas are more likely to be off gas and experience fuel poverty. Passivhaus can help to tackle this problem, keeping more money in the pockets of our tenants, instead of spending a big portion of their wages on expensive fuel bills.
There are also the carbon benefits. Passivhaus homes can reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent compared to the average British home. More Passivhaus homes would help the Government to hit its legal requirements to reduce carbon emissions.
Passivhaus isn’t some eco-bling. It really exists and it dramatically cuts fuel bills. Nor do the homes have to look wacky – some of Hastoe’s most beautiful schemes are built to Passivhaus standard, such as Burnham Overy Staithe, in Norfolk (pictured), or Sharnbrook, completed earlier this year.
We can have quality, attractive, homes in the local vernacular, that also save residents hundreds of pounds a year.
So it’s time for some serious ambition from the Government on Passivhaus. The Government should use Homes England to promote and encourage the use of Passivhaus through its grant funding programme. The Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government should work with local authorities and housing associations to build more homes to Passivhaus, or near Passivhaus, standard. It’s an investment in quality housing and will have huge long-term benefits.
The recent Labour Social Green Paper committed to funding and support for housing associations and councils to build new Passivhaus homes. The Government should be equally, if not more, ambitious in its own Green Paper, set to be published this month.
Dominic Raab has said the Green Paper is a “historic opportunity” to change social housing in Britain. Promoting and funding Passivhaus for new social homes would be a fantastic place to start on that mission.