BRE lays down a marker

A new sort of code for sustainable homes?

Since the demise of the Code for Sustainable Homes was announced there has been speculation about what would replace it. Passivhaus? Breeam for houses? LEED domestic? Super Sap? SHIFT for the private sector? You may have spotted that some of those don’t even exist (yet). Well, nor does the BRE Home Quality Mark, launched earlier this week to standing room only at Ecobuild, but it is BRE’s bid for dominance in this sector of the certification market.

Developer Lendlease, Sustainable Homes and brick manufacturer Weinerberger lined up to demonstrate the market appetite for an aspirational and independently verified voluntary standard. The roof trusses are going up on Weinerberger’s house system, e4 brickhouse, at the BRE’s Innovation Park in Watford. It will be the first to be assessed by the standard which is still very much in beta mode and looking for projects at all stages to work with as pilots.

The simple consumer-facing graphics are in place, along with a star rating and three indicators, all designed to differentiate the best homes. Background research included a survey with Money Supermarket users which suggested that one in five respondents were prepared to pay a higher price for a property with a sustainability stamp of approval – provided this would result in seriously reduced environmental impacts and running costs. Consumers and industry will get a star rating and a score card on the cost of living (encompassing maintenance and energy costs, location, insurance), health and wellbeing (light, temperature, acoustics), and ecological footprint (biodiversity, eco-friendly materials). Based on the triple bottom line they are not the definitive indicators – others are ‘smart’ to show how digitally connected homes are, and an indicator of whole life CO2 consumption. 

Existing BRE licensed code assessors will be able to transfer to this scheme at no extra cost and the BRE also promises there will be very little extra paperwork for the houses

Existing BRE licensed code assessors will be able to transfer to this scheme at no extra cost and the BRE also promises there will be very little extra paperwork for the houses. ‘We will use the existing data from your SAP worksheet and your BIM model and will also output data in a more usable way to feed into corporate responsibility statements, marketing and the SHIFT index,’ says BRE’s Gwyn Roberts. There will be three tiers of input: our surroundings (location, transport etc), my home (at building level) and knowledge sharing (all about ensuring the home is delivered clearly and aimed at reducing the performance gap). The first two may be able to gain pre-approval, the latter will depend on site assessments.

John Kirkpatrick of Lendlease expanded on how the mark would give more certainty and the ability to stay ahead of legislation without second guessing the direction of travel. Architect Bill Dunster of ZedHomes  asked how those standards would be kept aspirational. ‘The person who sets the rules controls the future of industry,’ he said, cautioning against undue influence on the standard from business-as-usual quarters of the industry. Chris Twinn, acting as a consultant to planning authorities post Arup, recognised the potential – and appetite – for the standard to be embedded in policy. Tony Burton of Sustainable Homes particularly sees how it might be taken up at neighbourhood plan level:  ‘I can envisage a regulatory pull quite quickly.’

Registration for the mark will be open in June – just in time for the projected wind-down of the Code for Sustainable Homes, which should have its most basic, core elements incorporated into the building regulations due to be published in the next few weeks.