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Carbon neutral social housing must be the future

Posted by Finn Goodall on 24 January 2020 at 4:29 pm

One-quarter of the UK's carbon footprint is attributed to construction, demolition, and operation of UK housing. In 2015, the government scrapped a 2005 policy that new homes should be built to use zero carbon. They believed the extended planning process was not worth the investment, due to the urgent need for social housing. For more information on this, you can read the blog written by Sharon. 

The UK has targets under the climate change act, to cut house emissions by 80% before 2050. In order to reach this target, the government needs to re-introduce carbon-neutral policy for newly built homes. As well as this serious attention is needed to renew old wasteful and inefficient homes into zero-carbon homes fit for 2050.

Small scale zero-carbon housing projects are significant in highlighting what can be achieved for low carbon social housing.

Norwich’s ‘Goldsmith Street’ shows the potential for carbon-neutral social housing in the UK. In 2019 the local council invested in 100 new social houses, that were built according to the German ‘Passivhaus standards. This entails a high level of comfort, whilst using small amounts of energy for heating and cooling. Utilising post-heating airflow, high levels of insulation and airtight building fabric are the main components for achieving these standards. This has allowed a 70% reduction in energy bills for tenants. It has paved the way for the local council’s potential in providing efficient and comfortable homes to tackle the housing crisis and the climate crisis. 

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Cardiff University’s ‘Solcer house’ project shows the achievability of zero-carbon social housing. They have designed a house that costs less than the social housing budget and gives back more electricity to the grid than it takes. This project was undertaken as a reaction to Osbourne scrapping of the zero-carbon policy. The ‘Solcer house’ energy systems are generated by solar and battery to power heating, ventilation, and hot water systems. The house is built with thorough consideration for thermal insulation and reduced air leakage to minimize energy demand. All material was built using local supply chains, and only took 16 weeks to build. This project shows the potential for low carbon supply and storage at a domestic level, with costs meeting today's budget for social housing. 

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For the UK to reach a reduction in house emissions for the 2050 climate targets, there needs greater efforts to bring old social housing to modern climate friendly houses, fit for 2050. The National Energy Foundation has teamed up with Energiesprong to do just that. Their project turns energy-intensive and badly insulated homes, into net-zero energy homes in 15 days. They create an energy-efficient ‘jacket’ that consists of new walls, new windows, and a new roof fitted with solar panels. This provides an energy leap for old social housing into energy-efficient and sustainable housing, aligning the UK with its carbon targets. This is economically feasible as it is paid for by the avoided maintenance costs for the tenants and landlord. These costs are all calculated in a monthly 'comfort plan', so there is no large initial payment. Scaling this project up will bring the UK social housing into modern housing desirable for tenants and the environment.

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These examples demonstrate how carbon-neutral social housing is feasible through modern technology and research. The government must re-introduce zero carbon housing policy and provide a large-scale platform for projects like Energiesprong, if they are serious about the housing crisis and climate change. 


If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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6 comments - read them below or add one


delhisComment left on: 21 January 2021 at 11:42 pm


FlorahwilliamsComment left on: 5 January 2021 at 9:05 am

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TimothyPolinComment left on: 15 October 2020 at 9:36 am

The topic of carbon dioxide emissions is becoming more relevant every year. I researched this issue and write a critical review on the subject. I want to say one thing that the real fight against carbon emissions has not yet begun.  

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GilbertComment left on: 8 May 2020 at 12:24 pm

Carbon neutral house are definitely the future. I believe some improvments have been made over the past couple of years. The pricing is still a bit prohibitive for some but on the long term, the savings are also huge. So this is an investment for the future. Based on the current climate situation and also the corona crisis, it is probably a good idea to go the extra step and invest in this kind of solution.

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Ian Smith

Ian SmithComment left on: 8 February 2020 at 10:12 am

Great though these examples are, we cannot continue to ignore the embodied emissions in building materials, particularly when it relates to new build.  We have one of the highest disparities in the world between our production and consumption emissions.  Most of this disparity comes down to embodied emsissions in the goods and services we consume.  Just addressing the operational emissions is only a part of the story.  Any policy that does not look beyond this is doomed to fail.

We are deluding ourselves if we think that, just because the operational emissions are zero, the carbon footprint of the building is zero.


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Mark Boulton

Mark Boulton Comment left on: 7 February 2020 at 5:22 pm

This is interesting . . . I visited a local housing development nearby yesterday (at Lower Quinton). There were 43 houses of various sizes on a nicely laid out site with good paths and green space. Just two of the proporties had solar rooves; the other 41 didn't. On checking with the site manager I was told these two were social housing and had to have PV. The others don't?

What kind of logic is this as we try to do everything we can to respond to the climate crisis?  I am meeting the Head of Building Control at Stratford on Avon next week for what could be an interesting discussion!


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