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UK housing is among the worst in Europe for energy efficiency

Nearly 2.5 million households in the UK are living in substandard housing, and they suffer from fuel poverty. Low income means that they cannot maintain a comfortable temperature in their home.

The majority of housing in the UK was built before the 1990s when energy efficiency standards were not regulated. The NHS treats people with poor housing every year, spending PS1.4 billion. This has a major impact on their health.

According to the Climate Change Committee, which advises on climate change issues, around a quarter (25%) of UK greenhouse gas emissions are due to energy used for heating, lighting, or running appliances at our homes, workplaces, or public buildings. The point used by our homes is also the largest source. Out of the 29 million existing homes in the UK, only 8 million currently meet the highest standards.

The UK government recently announced a plan to make a building greener and to reach the net zero target by 2050. This aims to eliminate harmful emissions from our atmosphere.

Heat pumps for new construction

The government’s plan includes installing 600,000 Heat Pumps before 2028. Heat pumps work similarly to air conditioners, but they circulate and transfer energy from heat sources such as ground or air through a compressor into our homes.

While they may sound like a decent amount, the 600,000 figure actually falls short of the previous suggestions made by the UK Energy Research Centre. While 600,000 sounds like a lot, it is less than the suggestions made by the UK Energy Research Centre.

Heat pumps are a great way to reduce heating costs and increase comfort. klikkipetra/Shutterstock

A second proposal is to raise the energy efficiency standards of all new buildings until 2025. It is important to get the design right at the beginning instead of insulating the walls and installing the heat pump later. Homes built according to the Future Homes Standard are “zero-carbon-ready” and have carbon dioxide emissions that are 75-80% less than those made in accordance with current standards.

These plans may be a step in the right direction, but they don’t go as far as needed to improve the housing situation in the UK. The government would be wise to take a look at how other countries have “greened up” their housing.

What’s being done in other countries

In the Netherlands, for example, the government funds a new energy-efficient technology called Energysprong to improve the efficiency of existing buildings. The technology allows for houses to be renovated in less than ten days, utilizing wall and window insulation as well as solar roofs and intelligent heating systems. This approach results in fewer emissions but also less waste, as the majority of components are prefabricated.

Eco-friendly tiny homes in NIjkerk. HildaWeges Photography/Shutterstock

Austria and Italy are also examples. Both countries have promoted the use of technology and sustainable solutions for innovative house refurbishment on a city level. Innsbruck, Austria, and Bolzano, Italy, have both successfully reduced household emissions and energy consumption by 40-50% in five years.

These schemes all involved a system-wide shift and close collaboration among housebuilders and utility companies as well as house owners, local governments, and the government. The importance of this collaboration cannot be overstated. Our research into shifting to a “zero-waste” economy highlights the role that governments play in supporting innovative technologies and extending the life of a building.

The UK government should focus on long-term collaborations with housebuilders rather than short-term ones that discourage engagement.

Rethinking the system

A report by the House of Commons suggests that energy bills could be reduced for most people by PS270 per year if they built greener, more energy-efficient buildings. This would also make our air cleaner. It would also relieve pressure on the NHS and enable people to live in more comfort at home.

The retrofitting work needed to make our houses more energy-efficient would also create up to 50,000 jobs in 2030. This is a welcome development, especially given the current economic climate. If the government is serious about “building back better” and achieving the net-zero goal, it must take a holistic approach to the issue rather than blaming homeowners or builders.

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Jane S. King

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