Page last updated at 03:32 GMT, Wednesday, 2 April 2008 04:32 UK

Concern over 'zero carbon' homes

By Mark Kinver
Science and nature reporter, BBC News

Row of terraced houses (Getty Images)
MPs are calling on the government to also cut emissions in existing homes

UK home-owners are not prepared to make the changes needed to live in "zero carbon" homes, according to a report.

People felt the eco-friendly buildings would require extra maintenance and that they would have to cut back on certain appliances, it added.

The National House-Building Council (NHBC) Foundation study said buyers also feared the homes would cost more.

The government has set a target that all new homes in England must have no net carbon emissions by 2016.

The findings of the report were based on more than 500 interviews with homeowners and nine focus groups, which were carried out by research organisation EPR.

Despite widespread media coverage of climate change, the study found that energy efficiency was not a major factor when it came to choosing a new home.

Instead, it said, most respondents would prefer a better kitchen or bathroom.

'Lack of understanding'

NHBC chief executive Imtiaz Farookhi said the results came as no surprise.

"What has happened since the Stern Review is that there has been a general understanding of global warming and carbon emissions," he told BBC News.

Sir Nicholas Stern (Image: AP)

"But the debate about house building has largely been between government, regulators and the construction industry; in short, the supply side.

"The demand side - home-buyers and home-owners - actually haven't been involved in this process.

"Unless people actually understand and engage in this, they are not going to be willing to buy these homes and change their lifestyles."

From May 2008, new houses in England will have to be assessed against the new Code for Sustainable Homes.

Graphic showing household energy consumption (BBC)

The six-star rating system grades a building's environmental performance, which includes energy and water consumption.

In order for a property to be of a standard that is likely to meet the government's "zero carbon" definition, Mr Farookhi said it would have to receive a five- or six-star rating.

But he added that there was still a great deal of uncertainty and confusion among building firms about how the government would define "zero carbon".

"We still don't know what 'zero carbon' means," he said. "At one stage, the Treasury had said that a home could not have a gas connection if it wanted to qualify.

"It is not an easy period, and we need to have stability in definitions and regulations."

Existing emissions

The NHBC Foundation also expressed concern that ministers had focused their efforts on new homes and had overlooked the current housing stock, responsible for about 27% of the UK's total carbon emissions.

PV panel (Image: EyeWire)
The government has relaxed planning rules for domestic solar panels

It is a concern shared by a committee of MPs, which said housing policy risked neglecting the impact of the UK's 25 million existing houses.

In its Existing Homes and Climate Change report, the Communities and Local Government Select Committee called on ministers to "engage fully" with cutting emissions in homes that were already built.

"The government's understandable desire to build improvements into future housing has led it to give insufficient priority to action on the vast bulk of the housing stock," said Phyllis Starkey, the committee's chairwoman.

The group of MPs warned that without addressing the issue, the government would not meet its 2050 target of cutting carbon emissions by 60% from 1990 levels.

"We need a much clearer focus on what must be done to bring existing housing up to required energy efficiency," Dr Starkey urged.

"The point will come when all the 'low-hanging fruit' has been picked, by which I mean cavity walls filled, windows draught-proofed and boilers lagged.

"We need the government to go further and do much more to help householders radically cut carbon emissions from their homes, whether they were built in 2007 or 1707."

Recently, Housing Minister Caroline Flint announced that home-owners would no longer need planning permission to install microgeneration technologies, such as solar panels, provided it had "no impact on others".

However, the relaxation of the planning rules did not include micro wind turbines, which first had to be cleared by the European Union.

Property plan's 'low carbon' goal
14 Mar 08 |  Science/Nature
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28 Jan 08 |  Science/Nature
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27 Nov 07 |  Science/Nature
'Zero carbon' homes plan unveiled
13 Dec 06 |  Science/Nature
Wasteful homes 'risk eco-targets'
21 Jul 06 |  Science/Nature

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