Why are eco-homes still so rare in Britain?

Why are eco-homes still so rare in Britain?

Why are zero-carbon and eco homes still such a novelty in the British Isles, asks Sarah Beeny’s online estate agency Tepilo.

In a world where climate change, global warming and green issues are frequently on the news agenda, the desire to be environmentally-friendly and energy efficient has never been higher.

But it feels like eco-homes, zero-carbon homes and low-energy Passivhaus homes are still a rarity and a novelty, even in 2017. They are hard to find and are still regarded as something new, revolutionary and futuristic, rather than being seen as the norm.

That said, there is a push to change all this, to make homes more energy efficient across the board. As Louise Ridings of Stacks Property Search notes, when the requirements for Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) first became law for those selling a home almost ten years ago, buyers largely ignored them.

Now, however, with rising household bills, dwindling supplies of fossil fuels and a move towards alternative, renewable energy, EPCs are starting to warrant closer attention.

Although buyers might expect all new-builds to meet the highest energy-efficient standards, this isn’t always the case. “We might expect period houses that haven’t been refurbished for decades to perform badly on their EPCs, but we could be forgiven for thinking that new homes should get full marks,” Ridings said. “Graded A-G, where A is ‘energy efficient and well-insulated’ and G is wind rattling and draughty, a quick assessment of most new homes show that an ‘A’ rating is unusual.”

Back in 2011, the coalition government confirmed in that year’s Budget that from 2016 all new homes would be zero-carbon. This pledge, however, was scrapped a year before the deadline hit, with the definition somewhat woolly and blurred to begin with.

“The government recognises that the construction industry needs to employ eco-friendly methods and green specifications, but the process seems to be beyond slow,” Ridings added.

To prove that eco-friendly homes could be built quickly, efficiently and cheaply, Cardiff University set about building an energy efficient home in Bridgend in 2015, at a cost of £1,000 per square metre, in just 16 weeks. What’s more, the home was said to export more energy to the grid than it used, making it what is known as carbon positive.

We’ve looked before at the pros and cons of solar panels, and how this can earn homeowners money by selling excess energy back to the grid, but if a whole home could do this for you the savings made on energy/household bills could be huge.

Some developers are concentrating on eco-homes or homes with more extensive eco features, but supply to the British marketplace is still very, very small. At the moment, it’s not economically viable for developers and housebuilders to commit to large-scale projects for what is still a niche market.

New regulations may well change that, though. From April 1, 2018, all rented properties will need to have an EPC rating of at least E. With energy bills rising for most consumers, the demand for low-energy, eco-friendly homes – where household costs are lower – may also start to rise.

While many buyers like the idea of a home that is eco-friendly, it’s not yet a must-have. And the supply available reflects that. Attempting to add eco features to an older home isn’t easy or cost-efficient, to the point where a buyer’s green principals will be offset by the dents to their pockets.

Buyers with a firm eye on their green credentials can, according to Stacks Property Search, do certain things and carry out steps to increase their chances of securing an eco-friendly home.

This includes making it clear to estate agents what is important to you, to ensure they flag anything that is remotely eco-friendly. Buyers should also use property search engines that allow searches to be narrowed by keywords, with phrases such as ‘eco’, ‘energy efficient’ ‘environmentally friendly’ and ‘Passivhaus’ all upping your chances of finding a suitable home.

Stacks also advises that, as a buyer, you should pay forensic attention to EPCs, “not just the little coloured chart, but the back-up information too. The ‘potential’ figure is important, as you may be able to make fairly simple changes that will bring up the percentage.”

While some take more drastic measures, including finding a plot of land and building their home from scratch to make sure it’s as eco-friendly and energy-efficient as possible, this can be a daunting and costly exercise. The hope has to be that, at some point in the future, eco-friendly homes will be mainstream and commonplace – the norm rather than a mere quirk. Efforts are continually being made, by the government and developers, to make homes more energy efficient, but critics say not enough is being done.

Eco-friendly homes are not only good for the environment but they can also be very good for a homeowner’s bank balance, too. An extensive rollout of entirely eco-friendly homes seems unlikely for the foreseeable future, but pressuring housebuilders, developers and the government to build new homes with one eye on the environment and lower energy costs doesn’t seem beyond the realms of possibility.

Britain might not be about to undergo an eco-home revolution, but with increasingly environmentally-conscious property buyers and sellers, there is a demand there for homes that are sustainable and energy-efficient.