Future Homes Standard Consultation: A Detailed Overview.

Original Article
February 21st, 2024


Image shows a row of new build residential properties

On 13th of December 2023, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities (DLUHC) disclosed its eagerly awaited consultation on the Future Homes Standard (FHS), a pivotal update to the energy efficiency standards within England’s Building Regulations. This initiative is a cornerstone of the UK Government’s ambition to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. It targets a significant reduction of emissions originating from buildings, which account for approximately 30% of the UK’s total emissions, with a considerable portion emanating from domestic heating. The evolution of regulations, particularly the recent enhancements in Part L in 2021 which achieved a 30% reduction from previous standards, underscores the ongoing efforts to decarbonise the built environment.

The 2025 Future Homes and Buildings Standards aim to escalate these achievements, setting even loftier targets that align with the 2050 net zero aspiration. These standards are not only pivotal for achieving carbon neutrality but also for reducing operational costs and elevating the comfort, safety, and air quality of buildings.

The FHS consultation delineates the government’s strategies for realising the Future Homes Standard and Future Buildings Standard, focusing on the decarbonisation of new homes through enhancements in heating, hot water systems, and heat waste reduction. These measures are designed to ensure that homes constructed today are fully prepared to meet the net zero by 2050 target.

Expanding upon the foundational framework introduced in the 2019 consultation titled ‘The Future Homes Standard, 2019’, the current consultation period remains open until 6th of March 2024, with the new standards set for implementation in 2025.

What does the Future Homes Standard consultation propose?

The consultation, unveiled in December 2023, suggests two options for the notional dwelling that will establish the compliance standards. These options closely mirror the fabric standards introduced in the 2021 uplift to the Building Regulations, with minimal discernible enhancements. This approach results from various considerations, including cost implications and the perceived necessity of further improvements. The analysis suggests that enhancing fabric standards beyond current levels offers diminishing returns and becomes economically less viable in reducing carbon emissions as the grid moves towards decarbonised and electric heating solutions.

With this in mind, the primary proposal focuses on a shift from gas to electric heating forms to achieve a minimum of 75% reduction in carbon emissions compared to the Part L 2013 regulations. Both options advocate for an air source heat pump equivalent to ErP A++ for space heating needs, maintaining identical fabric requirements. The notable distinction lies in Option 1, which introduces additional features like solar photovoltaic panels (PV), a wastewater heat recovery system, enhanced airtightness, and a decentralised mechanical ventilation (dMEV) system. These features are designed to further decarbonise dwellings and reduce consumer bills. In contrast, Option 2, while initially more cost-effective, lacks these advanced decarbonisation features.

The consultation provides a thorough analysis, concluding that existing metrics, notably the Target Emission Rate (TER) and Target Primary Energy Rate (TPER), effectively uphold the policy objectives for the Future Homes and Future Buildings Standards. These metrics favour homes with lower fuel costs, reduced grid electricity demand, and lower peak power requirements, aligning with priority outcomes. While alternative metrics like Energy Use Intensity (EUI) and Delivered Energy were evaluated, they were deemed less suitable due to limited control over unregulated energy loads and the primary focus of the standards as compliance tools. The consultation proposes retaining the current metrics, including the Target Fabric Energy Efficiency Rate (FEE), which supports policy priorities but may necessitate improvements to better reflect energy efficiency. This aspect is currently under consultation and could potentially evolve based on feedback received.

A significant challenge within the construction industry is the performance gap, which refers to the discrepancy between the anticipated energy efficiency and performance of a building as initially predicted and designed versus the actual energy performance observed during its usage. Factors contributing to this gap include deviations from designs, substitution of materials on sites, and occupants not using buildings as intended. To address this issue, the FHS proposes enabling developers who utilise real-time monitoring of homes to receive a ‘Government-endorsed future homes standard brand’, aiming to reduce the performance gap.

In the initial consultation phase, the FHS proposed two different options for transitional arrangements, acknowledging the significant changes already implemented during the Part L uplift in 2021, which tightened fabric standards. The options for transitional arrangements aim to assist developers in adapting to low-carbon technologies, offering a choice between a 6-month or 12-month period from the laying of the regulations to their enforcement, followed by an additional 12-month transitional period.

In Summary

While the Future Homes Standard consultation and the accompanying proposals represent significant strides toward reducing carbon emissions from buildings in the UK, there remains a substantial gap in achieving the ultimate goal of net zero emissions by 2050. The consultation, with its focus on enhancing energy efficiency and decarbonising heating systems, outlines crucial steps forward. However, the measures, as proposed, may still fall short of the ambitious targets necessary to fully mitigate the impact of climate change. The reliance on current technologies and the incremental improvements in building regulations suggest that more radical innovations and broader systemic changes are necessary to truly align with net zero aspirations. As we move forward, it is clear that while the FHS is a step in the right direction, a more aggressive approach and further policy enhancements are needed to meet the urgent challenge of climate change and ensure a sustainable future for all.