Homes standard brings hope and fears

BRE's Home Quality Mark goes much further than the previous Code, but will it succeed? With the potential to become an important standard, it offers both challenges and opportunities

Greenwich Square, which Chapman BSDP is consultant on, has 645 homes. How would it be affected by the Home Quality Mark?
Greenwich Square, which Chapman BSDP is consultant on, has 645 homes. How would it be affected by the Home Quality Mark?

How we design and build our homes is changing. The government’s Housing Standards Review transformed housebuilding legislation in England, scrapping the Code for Sustainable Homes and putting in place new Building Regulations on access and water and a national space standard.  

These changes were designed to reduce the red tape and bureaucracy that can afflict housebuilding and to support the push to solve the current housing crisis – both admirable intentions.  However, the removal of the Code has left a gaping hole in design standards, especially for aspects like energy performance – and other schemes are now looking to fill this void.

Foremost of these is the Home Quality Mark (HQM) assessment scheme for new homes.  Launched by the BRE in March 2015, the HQM is still in Beta form and is only voluntary, but interest in the scheme is growing. 

HQM is far more extensive and complex than anything we’ve seen before in the residential sector.  It takes into account not just environmental sustainability but how a building’s design and performance affects the wider consumer experience – a significant departure from, and expansion of, the remit of the Code.  Of course, the principles of good design will not change, but the focus HQM puts on measuring impact on the occupier will be a new concept to many architects and housebuilders.  If interest in the scheme continues to gather pace, the industry will need to get up to speed with its requirements, and do so quickly. 

New marks to look out for: Home Quality Mark
New marks to look out for: Home Quality Mark

Homes for the future

HQM measures a home’s performance against a wide range of financial, environmental and social factors.  Environmental efficiency remains a key concern, but the standard pushes the boundaries of what a modern home should provide far beyond this.    

As an industry we have a better understanding now of how a home can affect and shape the lives of its occupiers.  HQM is much more consumer-focused than previous standards, addressing practical customer concerns such as a home’s access to local public transport links and its digital connectivity. 

Good design can only go so far in meeting these expectations and, under HQM, the location of a home will play a much more important role.  For rural developments in particular this could pose challenges.  Most of the country now has access to superfast broadband, but there are still unconnected areas.  Meanwhile public transport links for rural towns and villages are diminishing not improving; recent council budget cuts have seen subsidies for rural bus routes reduced by £78 million since 2010, according to the Campaign for Better Transport.   

Shaping future housing? Ryger in Maidenhead
Shaping future housing? Ryger in Maidenhead

Healthier, happier homes

HQM emphasises the home’s capacity to shape occupier health and wellbeing.  Where possible, the standard provides clear guidelines as to how a property’s design should address these issues, advising a daylight factor of at least two per cent for kitchens and a 43 Rw (dB) minimum level of sound insulation for internal walls and floors, for example. In these instances, meeting the criteria should be relatively straightforward, by designing windows to maximise sunlight levels and choosing building materials that provide good acoustic insulation. 

However, certain aspects of wellbeing covered by the standard are less tangible.  In the case of HQM’s criteria on security, for example, the standard notes that the design of a home should encourage feelings of safety and security and ‘prevent the fear of crime from undermining quality of life or community cohesion’.

Specifying the right windows and doors and minimising dark spaces on a development can go some way to encouraging feelings of safety, but the extent to which fear of crime affects community life will be depend heavily on the nature of a home’s location and surroundings. 

Again, this is something that designers can have little control over – but while they may not be able to control all aspects of occupier wellbeing, they will certainly need to understand them and be able to measure them if they are to meet the standards of HQM. 

Designing for HQM

HQM’s focus on health and wellbeing is certainly the right idea; making a concerted push towards creating homes that put the needs of the modern consumer first.  However if the goal of HQM was to reduce the red tape associated with housebuilding post-Code, then in this it has failed, as the standard is much more complex than its predecessors.

 

The scheme remains under consultation and is being revised regularly, so we can expect further clarifications and simplifications as we move forward. If some of the more complex aspects of HQM are stripped back, then we might see adoption becoming more commonplace.

For those responsible for designing and building new homes, HQM at least serves to highlight how important design is in shaping how an occupier feels and experiences a home, and the impact this has on health, security and wellbeing.  While this is not just the responsibility of architects, it does require further thought – and we will need closer dialogue between all parts of the supply chain, from architects and environmental consultants to developers and contractors, to tackle this issue in future.

Joanna Conceicao is an HQM expert and Marie Sebban is a BREEAM AP and BREEAM Assessor, and a certified CIBSE low carbon consultant, both at ChapmanBDSP