Developers have no choice but to embrace eco-friendly construction in order to meet the Government’s ambitious target for all new homes to be carbon-free by 2016: those who fail to rise to the challenge will be refused planning permission, warns housing minister Caroline Flint.
But can developers deliver the sort of green homes that buyers want - homes that have design flair, homes that are glamorous, value-for-money, aspirational and satisfying to live in?
With residential property accounting for 27 per cent of carbon emissions, the Government believes that making new homes carbon-free is much easier than tackling the problem in existing buildings.
Since April all new homes have been covered by the Code for Sustainable Homes, which grades properties
on a scale of one to six, using criteria such as water-saving features, on-site power generation and solar technology.
Level six is the most “sustainable” rating and requires all energy supplied to homes to come from zero-carbon sources.
'Can developers deliver the green homes buyers want - with design flair, value for money and that are satisfying to live in?'
Meeting the zero-carbon target is estimated to add about £35,000 to the cost of a home, according to the construction industry. Are buyers, including avowedly green-minded consumers, prepared to pay extra? And will owners accept the lifestyle changes required to live in these brave-new-world properties?
Focus group research by the National House-Building Council suggests home-owners are not yet prepared to make the leap to carbon-free homes; they are reluctant to pay a premium for a green property or do without mod cons such as power showers and gas hobs.
Design is also an issue. Buyers feel comfortable with the styles they know and love. The next generation of housing is unlikely to look similar to traditional build but not as extreme as the appearance of prototype zero-carbon homes but buyers will have to get used to change.
“It’s vital for homebuyers to want to live in zero-carbon homes if they are to be a successful reality,” says Nick Raynsford, MP and chairman of the NHBC Foundation, adding that the onus is on developers and their architects to come up with attractive designs.
While save-the-planet overtures are convincing more homebuyers to think and act in a green manner, they should not have to compromise on style or luxury, says the government watchdog, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. The new design jargon is also offputting for people not familiar with the vocabulary such as “biomass heating” and “grey water collection”. Nor is this terminology very evocative.
It is vital that zero-carbon homes sound good and look good - this is where architecture plays a big part. No one wants a mock-Tudor home with solar panels in the roof, or a Georgian design with a wind turbine but moving forward should not be too radical or the homes will struggle to sell.
However, the house market slowdown is not helping to change buyers’ minds and push them towards doing the right environmental thing. When they are finding it hard enough to get a loan on a moderately priced new home, they are not going to get the extra money to buy an expensive green home even if they want one.
And if buyers have to make choices, being green comes further down the list when what they need, before an environmentally friendly home, is one near to good schools, with its own garden, parking and good living space.
What buyers want and what developers are allowed to build will create its own problems if buyers don’t begin to accept a different way of living. Developers have to meet eco standards based on everything from how close a home is to public transport to whether it uses recycled materials.
In future, developers may also be forced to set aside land for allotments. Zero carbon is on the way and so is zero compromise as the Government takes a harder line. There are 15 “eco towns” on the books, each providing up to 20,000 new homes in largely car-free environments.
Heart of East Greenwich
This is billed as London’s first major zero-carbon development. It is being built on the site of a former hospital and there will be 600 flats and houses around a new town-centre square with shops, health centre, library and leisure complex.
Carbon-saving is achieved mainly through on-site generation of heat and power, using biomass technology, ground-source heat pumps, thermal storage and solar power.
Other green features include green sedum roofs and automatic light switches. To register, call First Base on 020 7851 5555.
Holborough, near Snodland in Kent, is a development of New England-style weatherboarded homes set around lakes and a wildlife reserve. Homes feature a recycling and filtration system known as Super E, which recirculates warm air from room to room, reducing dust and combating allergies. Apartments start at £165,000; houses from £249,000. Call Berkeley Homes on 01634 244666.
Newhall, a new settlement in the making in Harlow, Essex, has already scooped several architectural awards and is now leading the way on green design.
Eventually there will be 2,800 homes, built to a strict overall design code, which includes pedestrian-friendly zones and ecological planting - woodland, hedgerows, streams and lakes.
Rather than grid-like streets, there are curvy, tree-lined roads with verges. Buildings have projecting bay windows and conservatories, domed and steep-pitched roofs; copper, steel and glass façades mix with timber-clad walls, Welsh slate, even thatch. Many of the homes have penthouse-like qualities with double-height space, spiral staircases and extensive glazing.
Costume and theatre set designers Ian Griffiths and James Cotterill live in a triplex penthouse with vaulted ceiling.
© Andrew Sparkes
“It’s boldly contemporary, which appeals to our artistic character,” says James, who works from home and enjoys the rural tranquillity of the development.
The latest phase of homes is called SLO (Simple Living Opportunities), a joint venture between architects Proctor & Matthews and developer Spaceover, which says the 30 cheap-to-run homes (£250 a year) are “as close to zero-carbon as you can currently get”.
The design is not so much a back-to-nature approach but a celebration of domestic life around the heart of the home - the kitchen - says architect Stephen Proctor. Flexible, open-plan interiors make use of every space; staircase and hallway areas feature shelving and seating, plus there is an L-shaped courtyard. Prices start at £269,000. Call 01279 416660.
‘You feel close to nature’
Merchant Navy navigator Adam Stratford, 28, bought a two-bedroom house at St Mary’s Island, Chatham. An “eco-village” is being built on land previously used as a dumping ground for the former dockyard.
“Medway towns are on the up,” he says. “What’s remarkable about the regeneration here is the way a green haven, alongside the water, has been created. You feel close to nature.” Prices start at £172,000. Call Countryside Properties on 01634 891027.