From Greta to Glasgow, all eyes are on environmental issues. Currently underway, COP26 is expected to produce a string of commitments relating to reducing emissions, with 200 countries laying out their plans to do so by 2030.
The UK has already committed to a wide range of targets designed to cut its greenhouse-gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. But organisations such as Extinction Rebellion say this isn't enough, demanding the immediate cessation of the use of fossil fuels rather than a plan that spans decades. Insulate Britain, meanwhile, has resorted to headline-grabbing tactics over the last few weeks to flag up the direct impact that housing in the UK is having on emissions.
According to the Committee on Climate Change, housing is responsible for 14% of the country's greenhouse-gas emissions. Poor insulation and gas-boiler heating systems are the main culprits – hence Insulate Britain's demands for the government to insulate all social housing by 2025 and retrofit all homes in Britain to be low-energy and low-carbon by 2030.
So, what does all this mean for housing trends in 2022?
Clearly, heating will be a major issue. The government's long-awaited Heat and Buildings Strategy presented heat pumps as a key feature as they heat homes with warmth from the air, water or ground rather than using fossil fuels. The government has pledged to install 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028. In 2019, a total of 35,000 were installed (versus around 1.7 million gas boilers). In 2020, around 36,000 were installed – just 6% of the target.
Insulation, too, will be high up on the housing sector's priority list. The Committee on Climate Change points out that insulation rates are currently around a third of what they need to be to cut energy consumption. The Green Homes Grant scheme launched in September 2020 to help people insulate their homes and introduce other energy-efficiency measures. However, it was scrapped in March 2021 after reaching just 6,000 of the 600,000 homes for which it was intended, with the National Audit Office accusing the government of botching its delivery. Apparently, a new scheme is to be launched. No details are available yet.
Of course, property isn't just about residential houses. The Heat and Buildings Strategy applies to business premises too, and we can expect sectors such as Build to Rent and Purpose Built Student Accommodation to play their part as well, though many of these newer properties already perform better than older houses in terms of their energy-efficiency credentials. Homeowners, though, will be at its core, with legal commitments likely to be imposed to ensure that they make their homes more energy-efficient.
What will homeowners be expected to do? Essentially, they are likely to need to insulate their homes and introduce low-carbon heating systems (heat pumps are one such example, as are biomass boilers). We've already seen a move towards this with the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) regulation changes.
Currently, if you rent out a property, you need an EPC with a rating of 'E' or above. That is expected to change to 'C' or above for new tenancies from 2025 and to all tenancies from 2028. Any landlord found to be in breach of the requirement could be fined £30,000 per property. The change means that landlords of lower-rated properties will need to make changes such as insulating them, installing double-glazed or triple-glazed windows and installing more energy-efficient boilers, heat pumps or solar panels. At present, there are no plans to make financial support available to help landlords cover the cost of the required changes.
For newly built properties, the horizon is looking a little brighter. Major lenders are backing the green agenda, with momentum for this among both borrowers and lenders building, according to JLL. Aviva Investors, for example, is making £1 billion available over the next four years to lend for sustainable real estate. Globally, more than $700 billion of sustainable and green debt was issued in 2020.
All of this points to green thinking needing to be at the core of the property sector in 2022. Sustainable homes aren't a 'nice to have' anymore. They are a key priority for homeowners, investors, developers and lenders alike.
Thankfully, technology is opening up the industry in terms of finding new solutions and innovative new ways to address property owners' green needs. For example, houzen's sustainability reports collect data about how properties across the country perform on 27 key issues impacting our climate. Homeowners can quickly and easily see how their properties compare before receiving an action-focused report that helps them move towards enhanced sustainability.
Happy property owners, happy planet.