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by Tina Mistry, Aico
10 November 2021
Associate Feature: A housing stock fit for the net-zero age

Associate Feature: A housing stock fit for the net-zero age

As global leaders and delegates meet for COP26, the eyes of the world are on Glasgow. Scotland feels an appropriate setting for the conference, given the ambitious legal obligations it has set itself: a 75 per cent reduction on 1990-level emissions by 2030 and the ultimate target of net zero by 2045. 

With residential property accounting for around 20 per cent of Scotland’s emissions, it is natural that much national emphasis has been placed on the vast challenge of transforming housing stock to make it fit for the net zero age. Targets and deadlines have been set for private landlords, homeowners and social housing providers. Great emphasis has been placed on energy performance certificate (EPC) ratings as set out in the draft Heat In Buildings Strategy and The Energy Efficiency Standard for Social Housing Two. 

These are significant moves in the right direction, but policymakers must bear in mind that current EPC ratings merely represent the meeting of predetermined criteria at a set point in time. If we are to effect sustained change, monitoring measures are needed to continuously understand and act on real world performance. Sensor technology, data gathering and data analysis will be key as we roll out a nationwide programme of measures, as is ensuring that the ongoing review of EPC ratings brings about necessary changes.

It is correct that much of the immediate focus be directed towards a fabric-first approach to making properties as airtight as possible. If there is such a thing as an ‘easy win’ in this regard, new-build developments offer a blank slate to build on. In contrast, retro-fitting existing homes presents numerous challenges and a one-size-fits-all approach will simply not work.

We must acknowledge that, for some homes, ‘airtight’ will simply not be achievable. We must acknowledge that costs and appropriate delivery methods will vary wildly depending on building materials, property type and location. We must acknowledge that 83 per cent of urban properties ‘run on gas’ and that 17 per cent of Scotland’s population live on the 98 per cent of landmass that is rural, where 65 per cent of properties are off-grid. 

Alternatives to fossil-fuel-based heating systems are a priority in terms of decarbonisation, even though they will involve significant upfront costs. Fuel poverty is a growing challenge and we cannot allow this to be compounded by – or people to be left behind in – the journey to net zero. As with all areas of politics, the human impact has to be front and centre of developments. 
This is increasingly true when it comes to people’s homes, with remote - and flexible - working likely to be a lasting legacy of the pandemic. Changes to housing will have a transformative effect on the very air that people breathe. It is vital that these changes are not viewed in isolation, but that a holistic approach is adopted where we anticipate knock-on effects of each measure, some of which will require pre-emptive mitigation countermeasures. It is with this in mind that Aico recently established our housing safety and wellbeing forum.

Communicating and engaging with people throughout the process is an essential part of the equation. The rotation of air in a property can have significant short- and long-term impacts on health and wellbeing. Numerous other factors also impact indoor air quality, such as humidity and mould. It will be vital to normalise the monitoring of the indoor environment – especially in airtight homes – and engage with people about the tools at their disposal to ensure their home is a healthy one. This should become as commonplace as monitoring the number of steps we take, amount of water we drink, or portions of fruit and veg we eat each day.

What we are embarking on is not just the journey to a sustainable future, but a transformation in the relationships we have with both energy and our homes.

This article was sponsored by AICO.

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