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Attitudes to Low Carbon Homes

Eleanor Young

As debate rages over methods of assessing and labeling sustainability the NHBC Foundation has asked the views of industry and occupiers, writes Eleanor Young.

A new report on occupiers’ views of low and zero carbon homes highlights quite far the industry still has to go in communicating clearly about them. The terms, the value and mechanics of low carbon homes all cause confusion although, encouragingly, the findings show that occupiers are satisfied with the performance of their own low energy homes.

For architects one of the key findings is that a high proportion of occupiers associate very energy efficient homes with contemporary design. And they don’t like it. Around a 1000 occupiers were interviewed over the phone, through focus groups and at home with new and more vintage low carbon homes of five years plus for this NHBC Foundation research. They expressed a preference for more traditional designs and this preference increased with the age of the respondent.

Most of those interviewed preferred features of their new or enhanced homes to their previous homes with only 5% expressing dissatisfaction. Energy efficiency remains a minor consideration when choosing a home but the report notes that on further questioning 96% said that energy bills were important to them. ‘Energy efficiency’ is identified by the report as being the most helpful term for occupiers – although to be convinced before purchase they would like it to be translated into calculations of savings.

The housebuilders and housing associations interviewed appear to have a certain amount of skepticism about renewable technologies with 45% of housing association installing back up systems and 27% having had to decommission a technology. The occupiers seem hardly more comfortable with few of those with mechanical ventilation and heat recovery changing their filters or doing any maintenance, while not using it to its best effect due to them opening windows as much as those without MHVR. Solar technologies were those which had the highest occupier awareness.

The NHBC Foundation took the opportunity of the report to prod the government to get a move on defining Zero Carbon as fears of a drop in profit, and uncertainity over cost and valuation mean that most house builders will wait for a Building Regulations change before taking any steps to build more sustainably.

To download the executive summary of Today’s Attitudes to Low and Zero Carbon Homes visit