Written by SEA Chief Executive Jade Lewis
What policies would unlock and accelerate a just transition to Net Zero homes and buildings and deliver greener, healthier homes, buildings and communities?
For those of you who don’t know the Sustainable Energy Association, we are a membership organisation with expertise on energy in buildings and exist to help create living and working spaces fit for future generations by ensuring that buildings are energy efficient, net zero-carbon, warm and healthy.
We are also sponsors of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Healthy Homes and Buildings, and I personally helped to produce their White Paper, Laying the Foundations for Healthy Homes and Building.
Given we spend on average 90% of our time indoors, the indoor built environment contributes directly to people’s health and wellbeing.
It is astonishing to note that the estimated cost of leaving people in poor housing is in the region of 18 billion pounds per year. This statistic demonstrates the need for change: we need to build homes and buildings that are healthy for people.
We have a real opportunity to create and use buildings to promote positive health and wellbeing while addressing net zero.
While energy efficiency plays a significant role, healthy homes and buildings are about much more; including thermal comfort, air quality, acoustics, lighting, and views of the outdoors.
Also, focusing on carbon alone without paying due care and attention to other factors has led to unintended consequences in the past. Overheating, poor air quality, mould and moisture are all known problems from poor quality approaches to energy efficiency schemes and safety should be foremost.
The White paper sets out key policy asks to help deliver healthy homes and buildings.
Firstly, the government and local authorities should make health and well-being a top priority. It would be great to see the UK Government replicate legislation passed in Wales. Their Well-being of Future Generations Act requires public bodies to think about the long-term impact of their decisions to prevent persistent problems such as poverty, health inequalities and climate change.
We also need the Government to join up the relevant departments and agencies who have an interest in health and retrofit of buildings with clear ownership.
A National renovation strategy is then required to set out plans to retrofit the current UK building stock. Our building stock is some of the worst performing in Europe. The strategy should take a whole house approach, starting with the building fabric, and address the other building requirements associated with health and well-being, like thermal comfort, air quality, lighting and acoustics.
To do so improved tools will be required, such as a building passport. That clearly sets out the improvement measures required for a particular building.
We need to stop building homes and buildings that are energy inefficient. This will prevent us having to spend time and money on retrofitting them later. We need national optimum standards for new buildings.
We also need to develop the knowledge and skills around health and well-being across government and the industry, so it becomes standard practice to consider health and wellbeing in policymaking, new build design and retrofit projects.
Industry and government should work together to raise public awareness about the link between the built environment and health and well-being. This would help to create consumer demand for home improvement measures and start to create a market for Net Zero, as well as healthier homes and buildings.
Finally, we should measure the impact from current and future newbuild and renovation schemes to build the political, economic and business case as evidence into future policy making decisions, so that health and well-being truly is at the forefront of the Government’s decision-making processes.