Climate change is happening now and there is clear scientific evidence that the global climate is warming. Housing is a contributor to the problem but can also be an important part of the solution to one of the biggest issues facing not just the UK but the world.
A recent report by the Committee on Climate Change concluded that homes in the UK are inadequately prepared for the challenges of climate change. It reported that “Greenhouse gas emission reductions from UK housing have stalled, and efforts to adapt the housing stock for higher temperatures, flooding and water scarcity are falling far behind the increase in risk from the changing climate. The quality, design and use of homes across the UK must be improved now to address the challenges of climate change”.
Much of the existing housing stock in this country was built some time ago with 20% built more than 100 years ago and over 50% built more than 50 years ago. Given current rates of housebuilding and demolitions, it appears likely that these homes will have to last well into the future. However, many are ill-prepared for a changing climate.
The chart below shows many existing homes still have low energy performance ratings and the English Housing Survey recently reported that there has been little improvement in energy efficiency in recent years (as measured by the Standard Assessment Procedure). Substantial investment into the existing housing stock will be required to make it suitable for a changing climate.
Unfortunately, these findings apply not just to the existing ageing dwelling stock but also to the new homes currently being built. Comparing the energy performance ratings for new and existing homes (chart above) shows that new homes are typically more energy efficient than existing homes. However, too many only meet the bare minimum of standards. It’s reasonable to assume that the costs of retrofitting recently built homes would be much more than ensuring the homes are suitable when first built so more needs to be done to ensure all homes meet the highest possible standards.
It is not just the physical properties of the home that determine whether it is adequate for the challenges of a changing climate but also its physical location. Ensuring new homes are planned for appropriately with regards to water availability, sustainable transport, and flood risk are all essential. As the chart below shows, an increasing proportion of new homes (as measured by new addresses created) are being built in National Flood Zone 3 areas. These are areas which, ignoring the presence of flood defences, have a 1% or greater annual probability of fluvial flooding or a 0.5% or greater annual probability of tidal flooding.
The increased pressure to deliver many more new homes will inevitably put pressure on local authorities to identify suitable locations for new development. In doing so, they should take great care to account for not just the current challenges and limitations but also those arising in the future from a changing climate.