The government has just finalised its carbon reduction standard for new-build homes and businesses: homes have to be 6% more efficient than under existing building regulations, and businesses 9%. This is planned to be implemented in 2016. The government's stated objective is to make all new builds zero-carbon emissions from that date, but the homes standard was reduced from 8% reduction and implementation of the law delayed by six months until 6th April 2014 to help the building industry prepare.
"The changes are projected to deliver savings of £16 million per year to businesses, and reductions of 6.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted," according to Parliamentary Under-secretary of State Baroness Hanham. She added that the changes would "take an important and technically meaningful step towards zero carbon homes".
This delay makes the proposed reduction more difficult to achieve on schedule and some green commentators have expressed doubts. Tessa Hurstwyn, projects director at the Zero Carbon Hub, said: ‘The time-scale for zero carbon new homes from 2016 remains feasible, but it is vitally important that government provide clarity on the full definition of zero carbon as soon as possible and provide the tools to allow its calculation.’
How the regulations would work is not clear yet and there are various areas of "wiggle room" for building contractors in this complex legislation. Hanham stated that she would look to introduce "minimum energy efficiency standards" when "specific building services work including air conditioning and lighting replacements are carried out" in business premises.
The idea of building zero-carbon energy-efficient homes is laudable but it is in the balance whether this objective will be reached in 2016 bearing in mind the delays that have already occurred. Britain is already struggling with its carbon emissions reduction commitments and it doesn't seem that the government is really backing zero-carbon homes with the right degree of political foresight to ensure that the building industry is able to comply with the new regulations and that they will be implemented on schedule.