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Blog - Future of Housing Standards: A summary of our not-so-standard breakfast

On July 10 we opened the doors of One Sekforde Street to guests from the housing and standards industries. Delegates eager to learn about the proposed future regulations and approaches required in housing initiatives attended to hear from those leading the way in the sector. We were thrilled to have speakers from impressive and diverse backgrounds sharing their visions and communicating the impact the implementation of a new, lasting housing standard can have on important elements of people’s lives, the environment, policy, poverty, biodiversity, social equality, health and safety, community bonds and more.

Gavin Summerson, our City Standards Team Lead and chair of the event, asked one simple question: “How can standards ensure our homes are fit for the future?”

Speakers on the day included:

  • Lynne Sullivan OBE, Architect RIBA and Chair of Good Homes Alliance
  • John Palmer, Research and Policy Director at Passivhaus Trust
  • Dr. Elanor Warwick, Head of Strategic Policy and Research at Clarion Housing Group
  • Tom Way, Innovation Manager at L&Q Group

You can watch Gavin’s introduction in full along with all four presentations from our esteemed speakers in the video below.

We’ve pulled out our favourite bits from each of the speakers by way of a brief summary of the day below.

Lynne Sullivan OBE, Architect RIBA and Chair of Good Homes Alliance

During her presentation, Lynne stressed the urgency in addressing climate change in the built environment, designing to mitigate overheating as well as future-proofing housing in anticipation of the effects of global warming. She also touched on how this directly affects health – both physical and mental – and the correlation between poor indoor environments and health.

Lynne talked about how it is possible to cut building energy use by half, with help from sound, systems performance and digital technologies: “The fact of the matter is we don’t have to wait until 2030 to do this, we can do this in the next five years. We need to stop talking about notional buildings, we need to actually think about real energy use at the meter. We need to measure performance, and the wonderful world of digital is coming to our aid. We, as designers, in the built environment need to really think about what energy use comes from what area of the buildings and how to tune this up.”

Later, Lynne moved onto the value of urban greening with biophilia and the idea that this practice has direct advantages to biodiversity, microclimate cooling, and carbon sinks. She emphasised the need for a more rigorous inside and outside green space and air quality agenda, highlighting the four C’s outlined in the Cambridge Sustainable Housing Design Guide:

  • Community
  • Connectivity
  • Character
  • Climate

For Lynne, the future of homes standards should incorporate these four criteria holistically, always having in mind placemaking, performance, and quality.

John Palmer, Research and Policy Director at Passivhaus Trust

John’s message on the day was about smart buildings and integrated technologies. For John, these are only useful if the occupant fully understands how they control features to increase efficiency to make their environment more comfortable, benefit their pockets, and inevitably reduce their energy usage. For example, if an inhabitant has the capability to measure environmental elements and energy usage in their home, but doesn’t know that it is essential to close the windows while the heating is on, the idea of the ‘smart’ home can be defeated. Users should be empowered to control their energy usage with confidence through transparent and accessible communications.

He also stressed the UK’s lack of on-site renewable capacity to achieve net-zero by 2050. There would only be enough off-site capacity if it is done in conjunction with drastic behaviour changes to reduce demand dramatically. John made it clear that: “Simply switching to electricity and waiting for the grid to decarbonize is not an option”.

It’s not all doom and gloom. John’s presentation ended with four points which we can take forward when considering the new housing standards:

  • Reduce energy demand to a minimum
  • Maximise renewable generation
  • Invest in dynamic response/load shifting technology so the grid can cope
  • Grid decarbonization will help with the rest

Dr. Elanor Warwick, Head of Strategic Policy and Research at Clarion Housing Group

Elanor spoke about the importance of participatory and user-focused standards and how they benefit citizen’s needs. She touched on society’s changing expectations, such as future-proofing for an ageing society. When it comes to meeting targets of building enough houses, she emphasised the importance of meeting the wider breadth of residential and community needs: “We have to think holistically about the way we make places, not just seeing homes as things that can be plopped down.”

Decent homes as a standard prevent complete disconnect, but the concern is recognising the limitations of standards. The really challenging question is: “Where will we set the threshold? What is going to be the acceptable quality of life these homes are providing?” As a housing provider, Clarion Housing Group says it has and will continue to look into these questions.

She highlighted 10 steps she would like the future home’s standard to have:

  1. Consolidated (not necessarily comprehensive) coverage
  2. Future-proofed – Aspirations and New builds becoming existing stock
  3. Building on what we already know – Robust evidence base
  4. “Level playing field” – Fair and mandatory
  5. Tenure blind
  6. Stepped thresholds – Minimum has to be enough, yet ambitious ramping up
  7. Monitored – Transparent, cheap compliance processes
  8. Costed against WLV – Total cost to live
  9. Simple, clear and providing certainty
  10. Buy in from politicians, construction sector, developers and residents

Her eleventh (and final) note had a sense of urgency: “We don’t need a future home’s standard. We need a current home’s standard that is delivered tomorrow.”

Tom Way, Innovation Manager at L&Q Group

How can innovation help a housing association save money so they can do more to improve the standard of homes? Through the standardisation of new L&Q typology homes, living spaces would be predictable, simplified and replicable. Tom explained to the audience how the housing association aims to ensure homes are livable for people who move in, ensure they feel safe and secure where they live.

So what’s next for the future of homes standards? Standardising new homes and integrating technology to maintain a high standard of homes and improve maintenance. Tom discussed how this could help predict damp and mould, increase fire safety, optimising services and energy uses through IoT, in addition to added value to the resident. Can better user experience result in independent living for longer?

Tom concluded his presentation on another positive note: “People in the housing sector are people who want to do good. Standards should be a springboard. For me, they should be about what can we not do without.”

If you want to find out more about our Future of Housing programme, please visit our Future of Housing knowledge hub.

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