Following the Government’s plans to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and a number of subsequent sustainability pledges and announcements made, Tom Murray, Specification Director at Baxi Heating, discusses what this means for the social housing sector.
The UK Government’s pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050 was a watershed moment among the world’s major economies. In fact, the pledge effectively kick-started a programme of deep decarbonisation across the country’s public and private sectors.
Making this goal a reality, however, will not just mean adjustments within the industry but also fundamental changes to the way people live and work. Improving the energy performance of residential properties will be central to these plans, particularly in social housing which is estimated to account for 10% of the UK’s total carbon emissions. But what might this look like in practice and what do social housing providers need to do to align their building stock, new and existing, with legislation?
The challenge ahead
According to the Energy Saving Trust, the majority of household CO2 comes from heating and hot water emissions, which accounts for roughly 31% of the nation’s total. Prior to net-zero’s pass into law, the UK was aiming for an 80% cut in carbon emissions by 2050. This would have meant reducing the carbon generated from a home’s heating and hot water to 692kg per year. Now, however, this figure will need to drop to 138kg per household per year – a reduction of 95%. Importantly, all new builds will need to be carbon-neutral from day one to avoid adding to the 28 million existing homes that will require retrofitting with thermally-efficient materials.
The mission is formidable, not least for large social housing property portfolios. In order to better understand the challenge ahead, a further look at policy and recommendations being made to underpin net-zero ambitions in the residential space is vital.
Since June 2019, the Government has made several announcements that give an understanding of how the built environment will work in a net-zero economy.
For the new-build sector, policy to be aware of includes the Future Homes Standard, which is likely to seek ending the use of gas heating systems in all new-build dwellings by 2025. Once this happens, alternative heating technologies to natural gas boilers, such as air source heat pumps (ASHPs) combined with hot water cylinders, will need to be specified.
More immediately, the 10th version of the supporting Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP 10.2), part of the Building Regulations Approved Document L consultation in 2019, is now on the horizon. What we know so far is that proposed changes to Building Regulations will likely mandate tighter targets for new dwelling emissions. Once the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) consultation response is released, and the implementation date for changes is confirmed, there will be more onus on new-build developers to drive low-carbon development.
For existing homes already on the gas grid, hydrogen is currently being explored as an alternative fuel. Near identical in appearance and performance to condensing gas boilers today, hydrogen boilers like those being developed by Baxi Heating could provide efficient, zero-carbon space heating with little disruption to the existing building. This is very important, especially for local authorities and social housing providers, who need to balance meeting low-carbon regulation and maintaining a duty of care. As a result, it should be welcome news that social housing stock on the gas grid should be able to transition to hydrogen boilers easily if required, with little disruption to tenants.
What these changes mean for social housing
It is important that renovation, maintenance and improvement works carried out now continue to prioritise heating systems that are as energy efficient as possible to future-proof properties and safeguard residents. Selecting highly-efficient gas boilers combined with accessories designed to improve SAP ratings, such as the Baxi Assure in flue outdoor sensor (IFOS), shower heat recovery units (SHRU) and flue gas heat recovery (FGHR), will also help to keep energy bills as economical as possible by preventing wastage throughout the day.
For new-build social housing properties being developed in line with the Future Homes Standard, Baxi Heating has developed a residential specification range of products including highly-efficient ASHPs, designed to be combined with Assure hot water cylinders. Because ASHPs aren’t currently specified or installed in great numbers and there is room for error, indemnified Baxi Design services can support social housing providers with this technology. Not only this, but bespoke Baxi Training services can be provided on-site to educate social housing contractors across ASHPs and the rest of the product range.
Given the close ties to the public sector, social housing providers are under extreme pressure to improve energy performance and act as an example to other private landlords. However, this challenge will be difficult to achieve without trusted industry support. This is why the Baxi Assure complete home service has been developed to support social housing providers navigate the residential specification heating and hot water system challenges, today and tomorrow.
The Baxi Assure complete home service provides expert design service and SAP advice for new-build projects, quality spares and replacement parts from the Baxi Genuine Parts division, bespoke training courses from Baxi Training and hassle-free online warranty registration using Baxi Project Hub. Furthermore, a dedicated team of specification managers provides one point of contact for all hot water and heating system requirements.
Overall, decarbonising social housing will be a process, but with the right support social housing providers can rise to the net-zero challenge and continue to play their part in helping the UK to realise a more sustainable future.