Feature: Overcoming obstacles to delivering green homes

By Neil Gosling, partner and head of residential development at Shakespeare Martineau 

The development of more green homes is vital to the Government’s net zero carbon ambitions. However, a number of barriers are preventing the UK from realising the full potential of eco-friendly properties. So, what are the key obstacles that need to be overcome and how can this be achieved in a profitable and sustainable way?

Buildings are responsible for almost 40 per cent of the carbon emissions that lead to global warming worldwide. However, in the UK, the appetite for green homes is on the rise. According to new research from law firm, Shakespeare Martineau, undertaken with over 500 first or second-time buyers, more than three quarters (77 per cent) of people are likely to choose a green home for their next purchase. 70 per cent of people looking to get on, or move up, the housing ladder are also willing to pay more for better energy efficiency. 

To ensure the public fully appreciates the benefits of green homes and carbon zero homes, more needs to be done to publicise them. More than one in three (35 per cent) of respondents who would consider a green home said they wanted to understand more about how a green home would benefit them in the future, suggesting that more needs to be done to develop people’s knowledge and understanding. The right information and education, targeting both people’s hearts and minds, is also vital to convince those who may be on the fence about green homes. 

Buyers also want to realise the benefits of green homes at no additional cost to a standard house. This is because those being targeted with greener new builds are often first- or second-time buyers, who are not necessarily looking for their forever home. This means they do not plan to live in the property for the time that it would take to achieve a return on investment – usually around 10 years. 

The UK is significantly behind the curve when it comes to providing short- and medium-term incentives for purchasing a green home. Incentives that could encourage investors to purchase green homes include reduced council tax, better help to buy ISA returns, lower stamp duty, improved lending rates and giving EPC ratings greater influence over the value of homes.

While cost may be holding back many developers from pursuing green homes, there are a number of construction changes that they can implement, that would have a lesser impact on the overall build cost. Other options include investing in insulation and triple glazing, as well as ‘greener’ heating systems, such as air source heat pumps. However, as housebuilders will need to reduce profit margins to afford these additional expenses, additional financial support is urgently required from the Government.

Modern methods of construction (MMC) could also play an important role in reducing the amount of embodied carbon in properties due to the manufacturing process and utilisation of local labour, while speeding up development processes. Factory-built properties are also more energy efficient, reducing operational carbon at the point of occupancy. This being said, MMC also has its downsides, including the fact that supply shortages and material shortages are increasing manufacturing costs. The cost of fuel is also making it significantly more expensive to deliver products. In order to fulfil consumer needs and meet net zero targets, it’s likely that a combination of MMC and traditional construction methods will be required.

It’s vital that the entire industry comes together to increase public awareness of green homes, however, there must be clear financial benefits for developers and buyers alike. Planning must also proactively and effectively identify the need for green homes.

Energy infrastructure across the UK needs to be improved and the future design of housing developments needs to accommodate community energy systems to enable the ‘recycling’ of energy supplies from renewable sources. Currently, a number of factors are making it difficult for developers to spearhead community energy projects, from cost to legislation.

Green homes represent a significant opportunity for positive change within the property sector. With greater input from the industry’s large players, more Government support, including legislative changes and financial incentives, and by taking steps to educate consumers and the supply chain, the UK stands a better chance of unlocking its net zero potential.