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Unlocking Sustainability in Housing: Insights from the Sustainable Homes Matrix from the South East Consortium

13 December 2023
Reading Time: 2 mins

In today's rapidly evolving world, the quest for sustainability has taken centre stage in virtually every industry. One area where this is particularly crucial is housing. In a recent virtual gathering, stakeholders from across the housing sector convened to discuss the intricacies of sustainable homes, shedding light on key challenges and potential solutions.

The Sustainable Homes Matrix is the third research paper from industry workgroups part of UKBCSD members, the South East Consortium. It’s a guide to building and maintaining sustainable homes that are fit for the future with residents in mind.

UKBCSD Sustainable Homes Advisor Michael David, shares four key themes that emerged from this  roundtable event.

1.Understanding Stock Condition

One of the primary hurdles highlighted during the meeting was the inadequacy of residential stock condition surveys. These surveys conducted infrequently, often prioritise financial asset valuation over operational intervention. In stark contrast, the commercial sector conducts surveys biannually, delving into the entire lifecycle of the properties. To pave the way for sustainable homes, there's a pressing need for housing providers to gain a nuanced understanding of their stock condition on a more regular basis. This entails moving beyond mere financial valuation to operational insights that drive meaningful interventions.

2.Empowering Retrofit Initiatives

Retrofitting existing homes plays a pivotal role in enhancing sustainability. The government's release of SHDF2.2, allocating a substantial £800 million, underscores the commitment to this cause. However, challenges persist, including gaps in supporting factors such as the supply chain, training, and skill development. Moreover, there's a pertinent question regarding the retrofit sector's aspiration to merely achieve a 'C' energy performance certificate (EPC) rating. Should the focus be on a few outstanding cases or elevating the majority to a commendable standard? These questions prompt a deeper exploration of how retrofit initiatives can be optimized to drive sustainable outcomes effectively.

3.Embracing Smart Maintenance

Central to the discussion was the concept of smart maintenance, encapsulated in a six-step program. While the technical aspects are crucial, it's imperative to prioritize the tenant's perspective. After all, a home isn't just a physical structure—it's a sanctuary where individuals seek comfort and security. Recognising the subjective nature of home experience, the discussion underscored the importance of tailoring maintenance programmes to accommodate diverse occupant needs. Furthermore, drawing insights from international examples, such as Norway's low-maintenance homes or Spain's and Portugal's innovative cooling solutions, can enrich smart maintenance strategies and fortify resilience against future climate challenges.

4. Shaping Sustainable Homes Policy

Beyond individual homes, sustainable housing policy must consider broader infrastructure considerations, including energy sources and district heating systems. While energy often dominates discussions, water sustainability emerged as a significant concern, with proportionally larger price increases than electricity. As stakeholders engage with policymakers, it's crucial to ensure that sustainability encompasses multifaceted dimensions beyond energy efficiency. This includes financial affordability, space standards, amenity space, and adherence to the Future Home Standard (FHS). Acknowledging the additional costs associated with FHS compliance, discussions must address how these investments translate into tangible benefits for homeowners and communities alike.

In essence, the Sustainable Homes Matrix meeting served as a catalyst for dialogue and collaboration, emphasising the imperative of collective action in fostering sustainable housing solutions. As stakeholders continue to navigate challenges and opportunities, the journey towards unlocking the full potential of sustainable homes promises to be both complex and rewarding.