Code for sustainable homes policy revealing its strengths and weaknesses

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This comprehensive theoretical study project aims to explore whether the government's target for all new homes to be zero carbon by 2016 (Department for Communities and Local Government 2006) is feasible or an overambitious target. In particular the research will analyse the Code for Sustainable Homes policy revealing its strengths and weaknesses.

Climate change is considered by many to be the greatest environmental challenge facing the world today. "The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society....The pace of change and the evidence of harm have increased markedly over the last five years (AAAS, 2006); has convinced the government urgent action is needed

Houses are recognised as one of the major consumers of energy across the planet and also a sector in which improvements can be made. 27% of the UK's CO2 emissions arise from the energy used to heat, light and run our homes (Roaf et al., 2004). A report by Kate Barker into housing affordability made it clear, that more housing provision is required (Barker, 2004). The government plans to make homes more affordable, sustainable and to build 3 million new homes by 2020 (DCLG 2007). Therefore, it is essential that new homes are built by a method which minimises the use of energy and their C02 emissions. Other associated environmental impacts from water use, waste generation and building material also need to be minimised.

To account for this, in his 2006 pre-Budget speech the Chancellor at the time, Gordon Brown mentioned his wish to see Zero Carbon homes being built throughout the UK, and this year, Communities Minister Ruth Kelly fleshed out this wish with solid Government plans (Sustainablebuild 2009). These include tightening local planning and building regulations, to emphasize the preference for Carbon Neutral initiatives. Furthermore, all newly built houses will have to be operating as Zero Carbon by 2016.

The foremost piece of legislation for emissions reduction was Article 3 of the 'Kyoto Protocol; to which the UK Government had committed to a legally binding target, in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 12.5% over the period of 2008-2012 and to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) to 20% by 2010 using the 1990 as base year (DECC 2009). Together with international agreements, the UK government has endorsed various policies in order to address the issue; namely the Code for Sustainable Homes (CSH) policy. The evaluation of the industry's response to this initiative is crucial in determining the success of the policy.

The Code for Sustainable Homes (CSH) is a principal element of sustainable housing initiative: "the aim of achieving zero carbon status for new housing by 2016" (Mactavish and Cyril, 2007). In other words, new houses "must generate all its energy including for heating, hot water, lighting and appliances, without adding CO2 into the atmosphere (Tebbit, 2007).

Launched in December 2006 and put into effect in April 2007, CSH is based on and replaces BRE's EcoHomes rating system with carbon reduction being its central focus. CSH sets out minimum standards for energy and water use, site and household management and material use via the use 1 to 6 star rating system. A 10% improvement over part L of Building Regulations equates 1 («) star and a complete zero carbon home represented by 6 (««««««) stars as shown below in Fig 1.

Minimum standards required in order to achieve sustainability rating (CSH, 2006)

To build sustainable developments has become a growing political imperative in England. Planning and construction practices are used as the main mechanisms by which government promotes and deliver sustainable development (DETR, 2000b). With over 200 definitions of sustainable development in existence (Parkin et al, 2003) there is much debate as to its precise definition and little headway appears to have been in terms of a rigorous definition of the concept (Pearce.D 1990).

The most commonly quoted simple definition is 'development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs' (Brundtland 1987) however due to its ambiguity its interpretation can become difficult. Moreover there is no single definition which is widely accepted instead, inconsistent levels of importance are attached to the concept by a variety of definitions. Perhaps a more suited definition for this paper is 'sustainable housing should ensure a better quality of life, not just for now, but also for future generations. It should combine protection of the environment, sensible use of natural resources, economic growth and social progress, whilst conserving and enhancing the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage' (Mrowiec, 2003).

Furthermore, the term 'zero carbon' is also causing confusion within the built environment, as once again there is no clear or approved definition for the industry to pursue. Therefore it makes the target of zero carbon homes challenging as the industry is unaware of precisely what is required to be achieved. As Paul Pedley (Building 2007), of Redrow, put it: "It's like sending a shuttle into space. We need to know what we don't know". In addition Stuart Baseley, the chief executive of Home Builders Federation (2007), says one of the first tasks to complete is to agree a definition of a zero carbon home. The definition outlined by Communities and Local Government is 'net carbon dioxide emissions resulting from all energy used in the dwellings are zero or better, (2008) which shall be used for the purpose of this paper.

The understanding gained from the research may possibly help towards achieving the target of zero carbon homes set by the Government by analysing the CSH to highlight key barriers and ambiguity, as currently the industry feels that it is a venture into the unknown (Chevin 2007). This research can help provide understanding of the weaknesses identified, to eliminate them so that the CSH can be understood and achieved by the industry.

Aims and Objectives

In order to determine if the government's policy for all new homes to be zero carbon by 2016 is feasible or an overambitious target, the aim of this paper is to;

o To identify the strengths and weaknesses of the Code for Sustainable Homes policy

To establish these strengths and weaknesses the following objectives are needed:

o Define zero carbon and outline the driving force behind the government's zero carbon homes 2016 policy

o Analyse the Code for Sustainable Homes policy, identifying barriers to implementation and ambiguity

o Review current literature for opinions from the built environment on the zero carbon homes 2016 target

o Evaluate the Passivhaus approach to achieving zero carbon homes in UK.


Research is a logical and systematic search for new and useful information on a particular topic which can lead to new contributions to the existing knowledge and possibly help make progress in the field (Rajasekar 2006). Many different methods can be used to undertake the research element of a study. Every method has its own strengths and weaknesses, and certain concepts are more appropriately studied through some methods than with others (Babbie 2007).

In order to achieve the aim and objectives of this study, the undertaken research was derived by utilizing both qualitative and quantitative method of data collection; by analyzing secondary sources. Resnik (2007) advised that there is no right or wrong method of research providing the researcher is able to justify his decisions. In order to justify the method employed, it is crucial to discover what these terms mean.

Qualitative research is a type of research that consists of an investigation that will seek to answer questions such as 'why?' in order to produce findings that are related beyond the immediate boundaries of the study. It is also data that involves analyzing and interpreting texts in order to discover meaningful patterns of particular phenomena (Carl, 2003). Therefore, not only will this study identify the barriers to implementation of CSH but will also answer what these factors mean in practical terms of achieving the target. The form of qualitative material used consisted of newspapers; industry recognised magazines, journals, books and reliable websites e.g. BRE. However, it is thought that the researcher can become subjective in qualitative research by participating in it (Holloway 1997). Therefore, a combination of both qualitative and quantitative research has been analysed.

Quantitative research gathers and analyses data that can be expressed in numerical form so that the data can be measurable (Punch, 2005) e.g. in terms of CO2 emissions what % is saved from a new built home. Quantitative material used, consists of published statistics, national government sources; government and industry recognised magazine/journal surveys and general housing surveys. This method of data collection is relevant to this study as, one of the objectives is to analyse the CSH policy which is a government source. In the quantitative context, construction industry opinions towards CSH were identified and reviewed.

A combination of these methodological approaches has been adopted; primarily qualitative research with reinforcement from quantitative research results to provide corroboration for the reasoning. The mixture of both methods has provided a detailed view of the industry reactions, beliefs, and ideas about feasibility of the zero carbon homes 2016 target and the Code of Sustainable Homes policy effectiveness on achieving the target.

Another essential factor for consideration is the type of research used for this study: primary or secondary. Primary research refers to original data being collected for the first time specifically for a certain topic through many different forms of interviews, surveys and participant observations. These forms of primary research could be used to achieve the aim and objectives of this study however the major set backs are that primary data could be time consuming and expensive (Wenger 2008). Furthermore, the reliability of the research is also another important factor in primary research because it may affect the validity of the conclusions the researcher may reach (Parsons, 2001). In simple terms, the result would not be guaranteed to be the same or represent a true picture if the research was to be repeated by the researcher. Therefore it is clear, that being final year student with other coursework, cost and time constraints, it would be very difficult and unlikely for the researcher to collect primary research which would be reliable yet have validity for this study. However, after consideration the researcher decided to undertake an interview to get a response from the industry to provide depth and strengthen the findings.

Secondary research consists of information that already exists somewhere, having been collected for another purpose (Kotler, 2008). Therefore "it makes sense to use it if the data you want already exists" (Blaxter et al, 2006, p.170). Although zero carbon homes 2016 target and CSH are new phenomena; there is ample literature and secondary information available to analyse and review for this study. As a result, secondary data is used throughout the study. Using secondary data has it owns drawbacks such as the objective and purpose of study may not be relevant, the information maybe out of date and no longer relevant, in addition the quality, reliability and validity of the information provided _______ (Wrenn, 2002). However, as this topic has now become widespread, various amounts of secondary data are readily available, from which, only those have been selected which have relevant objectives and purpose for this study and those with sound credibility. Very few books have been used as they tend to become out of date before they are even published, furthermore only a small number of books have been written in regard to feasibility of the zero carbon home 2016 target or CSH and from the minority most have a dissimilar purpose or objective.

Therefore, carefully selected material is only used for this topic which are recognised by the construction industry to be reliable and valid forms of publications e.g. RICS, government statistics and publications. Other citations made within the research allowed for further reading on some topics to provide more in depth detail as well as a basis for comparison and new perspectives on the study. Halsey and his colleagues (1980) research on children's experiences of passing through school and colleges was based on a study on social mobility carried out by Goldthorpe (1980) is a prime example of a research carried out based on secondary sources (McNeil, 1985).

Results and Discussion

Zero carbon homes definition

A building is considered to be 'zero carbon' when the net carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions resulting from all energy used in the building are zero (CIOB, 2008) or better across the year. In basic terms, the home generates all its energy annually without adding CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. There are various publications in construction industry which define zero carbon in a number of different ways however; the most appropriate definition is published in CSH Technical Guidance (2008) by the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) as "zero net emissions of CO2 from all energy use in the home". The status of zero carbon, in relation to this definition, is measured by the total energy consumed within the building e.g. heating, lighting, cooking etc and the involvement from on-site renewable/low carbon installation plus off-site renewable contributions that are directly supplied to the dwellings by private wire arrangements.

This definition has caused confusion within the industry and been a subject of much debate. It all stemmed from the definition excluding all other off-site renewable energy and the requirement for all off-site electricity generation to be supplied by private wire, which is seen by many as being too difficult (Rotheray, 2009). Another reason for this confusion is due to the fact that the technical term zero carbon was not elucidated; as research carried out by Osmani and O'Reilly (2009) found that 73% of developers said the definition of zero carbon homes is ambiguous and needs more clarity in terms of requirements and expected outcomes.

The built environment believe that without the change of the definition, zero carbon is 80% unachievable for housing delivery targets of three million new homes by 2020 CIOB (2008). Furthermore, Richard Vaughan also branded the definition as 'unrealistic' without the recognition of off-site renewable energy (AJ, 2008). This is further supported by UK-GBC who recommend, it is possible for the definition to stay true to its original objective however more flexibility is needed to the zero carbon definition. Moreover, Stewart Baseley suggested that in order for the CSH scheme to be delivered successfully, the first important task is to create a common understanding of 'zero carbon' homes definition for the industry to pursue (Building, 2007).

In addition, the definition of 'zero carbon homes' is perceived to be limited, as it only refers to operational energy use (IET, 2007) and excludes embodied carbon emissions and energy involved for obtaining material, constructing, sustaining, refurbishing and disposing of the building (RIBA, 2007). As the embodied energy use, proven by research can be significantly more than the use of operational energy of a building (CIOB, 2008), it has been suggested to the government by Sustainable Development Committee (SDC), that embodied emissions should be considered part of the definition and to undertake extensive research into embodied emissions in order to find methods to reduce them (House of Commons, 2008).

Zero carbon homes drivers


With universal scientific evidence and agreement that increase in C02 emissions and other greenhouse gasses (GHG) such as methane and nitrous oxide are increasing the temperature of the planet at a fast rate with recent changes seen in the climate thought to be caused by human activity (IPCC, 2007), as natural causes unaided cannot justify the significant global warming (Directgov, 2009). In general, human activity produces CO2 emissions when fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gasses are burnt for energy and electricity as a result they emit high amount of GHG e.g. in 2005, 27 billion tones of CO2 emissions were emitted (Directgov, 2009). Human activity represents 40% of CO2 emissions within the UK with transport being widely accepted as the biggest contributor (Greenpeace) however 28% of the UK's CO2 emissions arise from the energy used to heat, light and run our homes (Roaf et al., 2004) therefore considered by many to be a sector where improvements can be made (Fig 1.1). CO2 is the most emitted GHG as it is released in high quantities however it can be argued that methane influence on GHG is greater as it's effects are 21 times more than CO2 (BBC, 2009).

Fulcrum Consulting, 2008

Evidence for global climate change asserts that C02 emissions released into the atmosphere are having devastating effects on the environment (Stern, 2006) causing a rise in planet's temperature which has started to alter weather patterns, as a result causing intensity of extreme weathers therefore encouraging not just individuals but businesses, governments and authorities to adapt behavior to respond to climate change (DEFRA, 2009). Without action on climate change, already 150,000 people are dying and could increase, 50 years time all land -based species could face extinction and by year 2100 there is possibility of the planet being hotter than it's been at any point in the past two million years (Greenpeace, 2008). Although, it's important to challenge GHG, the effects of previous atmospheric emissions will be experiencing for decades (UKIP). Therefore in order to challenge the climate change, government has set the target for all new homes to be zero carbon by 2016 under the scheme of CSH.


Sir David King, the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser stated that there is a 'close linkage between world economic performances and the man-made forces influencing climate change' however believes the link 'between projected economic change in the world economy and climate change have not been as rigorously explored by IPCC' (House of Lords, 2005). The stern report (2006) further recognises the potential of UK economical benefit if action is taken instantly as this can outweigh costs. The report also highlighted the effect climate change will have on UK GDP per year if immediate action to reduce carbon emissions was not taken, with possible annual loss of 5% of GDP or 20% of global GDP however with the investment of 2% of GDP by each country could help reduce the rising CO2 emissions. On the other hand Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC claimed that using GDP, as a method to measure economical progress is 'harmful'.

After the Kate Barker report into housing affordability, the government plans to make homes more affordable, sustainable and to build 3 million new homes by 2020 (DCLG 2007) therefore it is essential that new homes are built by a method which minimises the use of energy and their C02 emissions, so that the development 'meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs' (Brundtland, 1987). Zero carbon homes will provide long term benefits for the whole economy, for example reducing energy bills and general cost of running the home, creating new skills, jobs and less impact on environment (DCLG, 2008). Many believe that zero carbon homes scheme will be diluted due to economic recession however the government, in order encourage zero carbon homes development have put incentives such as stamp duty and land tax relief to help overcome cost barriers to building such homes.


Since social demand for sustainable homes increases due to the impact of climate change on environment, building zero carbon homes is becoming a priority for the government in order to meet social needs (House of Commons, 2006) and climate change targets. Therefore, due to demand it makes economic sense for house builders to start designing homes which are environment friendly and lucrative as society wishes to accept a sustainable lifestyle (Osmani & O'Reilly, 2009).

Although it is anticipated that for house builders to build zero carbon homes CSH is the most significant factor however corporate social responsibility (CSR) is now recognised to be the most influential organizational driver as it boosts organisation reputation, profits, and competitive edge (CIOB, 2008). House builders building zero carbon homes will not inevitably lead to low carbon lifestyle until society changes the way they live, sacrifice luxuries which have been taken for granted and be prepared to change (Channel 4). In return, society will benefit as they will reduce there own carbon footprint, lower running costs of homes and a better well being (CLG, 2006).