What are the barriers to Sustainable Construction?
In the current climate where all regulations that put up costs for house builders are generally unwelcome, the fact that sustainability carries with it an extra cost is clearly going to be a barrier. Especially as this is not something that will be on the radar of the first time buyer and is unlikely to attract more customers or, just as importantly an extra premium, over those houses that are not as ‘sustainable’
Customer awareness of ‘sustainability’
The public perception of sustainability is a key issue. The word ‘sustainability’ means different things to different people and, until the meaning is clear, it is very difficult to create a desire for sustainable houses in all but the greenest of eco-warriors. If sustainability just equals more cost without obvious direct benefits to the homeowner then it will be hard to create demand for sustainable construction.
Lack of clear link between sustainability, energy efficiency & lower fuel bills
Part of a sustainable home is of course its ability to reduce CO2 impact on the environment. To the public, this may still not be of primary concern however, once sustainability can be linked to lower fuel bills then there is a chance of encouraging take up.
Will the Green Deal help with sustainability?
Even though people realise that energy efficiency measures such as insulation can reduce their fuel bills, this is still not always enough to get them to part with their hard earned cash on sustainability measures such as insulation.
The Green Deal then, with its ‘no upfront cost’ and pay back through the savings enjoyed on your fuel bills should help. However, that depends on whether not having the cash up front is really the barrier it seems. With personal debt levels at £1.4 trillion for the UK, the evidence doesn’t suggest that people are shy when it comes to getting into debt when purchasing desirable items. So, if reducing fuel bills does not have enough appeal what else could encourage take up?
Encourage take up through Tax Incentives
The importance of the energy efficiency of housing needs to be highlighted so that people care about the rating on the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) for their house. If the EPC rating was linked to a reduction in Council Tax then people would have a good incentive to take notice of the improvement measures and seek ways to implement them, either through the DIY route or the Green Deal. Such a move would encourage more people to get a Green Deal Assessment as this provides an EPC for the property and will, in turn, raise awareness of the measures available to reduce energy demand and make the home more sustainable
Linking Council Tax to EPC rating would also benefit new properties. House builders would then be able to promote a tangible benefit for potential buyers for delivering more sustainable homes to the market. Not only are they sustainable, they offer lower fuel bills and give you a tax advantage.
The ultimate way to ensure that sustainability is at the heart of construction is through regulation. The drive to zero carbon homes is a good example of this with the Part L Approved Document being the key driver for CO2 reduction. However, given the potential ‘Bonfire of the Building Regulations’ it is unlikely that sustainability itself will be a key priority and even the desire to continue to reduce CO2 through improvements to Part L may be in doubt.
The future of sustainability in construction will depend on creating demand for such an approach with the general public. The first stage has to be to promote the value of EPC’s and their ability to indicate the ‘running costs’ of a dwelling. Rising fuel bills alone may not be enough on their own to do this and a Council Tax incentive would be an immediate benefit to the home owner and a feature that could be used when selling on existing buildings and advertising new homes.
Correct promotion of the Green Deal could raise EPC awareness and support from the Treasury on Council Tax incentives would provide a real driver for sustainability to get traction within the built environment.