Buildings alone account for almost 40% of all human greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the world, and more than half of these come from residential properties - our homes. Being part of the worldwide low-carbon movement, the implication of low-carbon houses could help us not only meet future energy needs but also have a positive impact on addressing climate change issues.
- GHG emissions are not falling at the rate required to meet the UK’s 2050 carbon targets;
- Domestic energy use contributes to about 30% of the UK’s total energy budget and 20% of UK’s GHG emissions, representing a key area for decarbonisation, according to the IET;
- A large percentage of preventable winter deaths are attributed to living in a cold home, according to E3G.
Low carbon houses in practice
The low-carbon house is not an entirely new concept. Precursors like zero-carbon homes and passive houses advocate similar principles and target carbon reduction in the same way.
First proposed in the UK, ‘zero-carbon homes’ are designed to produce zero – or even negative – carbon emissions. This is achieved by maximising energy efficiency and using renewable energy in place of fossil fuels. In practice, their emissions are reduced by achieving Fabric Energy Efficiency Standards based on space heating and cooling, using low to zero carbon technologies and connected heat networks to limit on-site emissions and off-site solutions for carbon offsetting.
Originating in Germany, the ‘passive house’ principle has been proposed as a standard for improving energy efficiency in residential buildings. As a less radical approach of implementing low-carbon houses, the idea is to create a comfortable living environment with passive techniques, using energy sources like sunlight, wind, and that generated by humans and appliances, to largely reduce the need for extra space-heating. Since being introduced to the UK, its adoption has been growing rapidly, with more than 1,080 certified units completed and over 1,100 units under development by the end of 2018.
Although low-carbon houses may be more easily achieved in new-builds, as 80% of the homes we will be living in by 2050 have already been built, retrofitting existing stocks represents a larger opportunity for delivering low-carbon houses. The general approach is by upgrading components of the houses, such as insulation and cladding, as well as everyday appliances to a higher energy efficiency standard, and installing renewable energy generation equipment, such as solar panels.
Benefits and impact
Representing one-fifth of the global carbon emissions, housing is unarguably a key area for decarbonisation, and low-carbon housing is the way forward. Combining both carbon reduction and energy generation approaches, the ultimate goal for the low-carbon house is to become ‘energy-neutral’, with the potential to generate even more energy than we consume, all the while maintaining an optimal level of comfort. Low-carbon houses create a path for us to mitigate climate change, achieve long term sustainable goals and improve our living standards at the same time.
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