Image: Saxton Gardens by Union North for Urban Splash
The 'eco-house' has been seen by some as the marginal preserve of environmentalists and enthusiasts. Could it be that with recent changes in planning policy and the seemingly endless rises in energy prices the new build eco-house will become the norm?
In 2010-2011 105,000 homes were built in England. This represents the lowest peacetime level of house building since 1924. Every year, as a nation we need to be building closer to 250,000 houses. The scale of this shortfall has driven the government to introduce recent changes to planning policy in the form of the 2012 National Planning Policy Framework (discussed here). In addition to the desire to encourage house building this document is saturated in language that reemphasises the need for sustainable development. The document states this point directly:
‘Development that is sustainable should go ahead, without delay’.
The momentum is pointing the way of the eco-house becoming a lot more mainstream. There is an obvious attempt by the government to appeal to volume house developers but what about the individual homeowner who is looking to move house but has never considered the economic advantages of building their own home, let alone building their own eco-home?
Since October 2010 changes in Part La of the Building Regulations mandates that the rate of energy reduction is equivalent to Code for Sustainable Homes level 3 (a reduction of 25% from 2006 regulations). The Code for Sustainable Homes (CSH) is rated on a scale of 1- 6 (however levels 1 & 2 are now effectively obsolete). The additional cost over and above typical build for the different levels of the code is shown below. (It should be noted that in time the cost of building to high code levels will diminish as level 3 in now the de facto standard.)
CSH Typical build cost uplift (Source)
Level 3 3 - 4 %
Level 4 6 - 8 %
Level 5 5 - 30 %
Level 6 30 - 40 %
The potential annual energy bill savings of code for sustainable homes level 3-6 houses are given in the table below. These figure are relative savings compared to a typical detached house built to 2006 part L with an annual energy bill of £657 per annum.
CSH Money Saved per year * Typical % Reduction *
Level 3 £82 - £252 per year 38%
Level 4 £275 - £478 per year 42%
Level 5 £203 - £528 per year 80%
Level 6 £348 - £644 per year 91%
* The savings vary depending on energy saving technologies used. (Source, page 71)
These savings are impressive on their own until you consider that they are savings relative to a house built in 2006. If these figures were compared to an equivalent energy bill on an older house the savings are likely to be even more significant.
It is impossible to predict how home energy prices will behave but some predictions claim that the average annual bill will rise as high as £2000 (based on current housing stock) in the next decade. In theory, this information, combined with the tables above suggest that if the average home owner remains in their average house for 10 years they can expect their average bill to double to something close to £2000 per annum. If this home owner were to build a level 5 house with a CHP (central heat & power) & PV (photo voltaic panels) their energy bill would still double in 10 years time but they could theoretically expect their annual energy bill to be only £258.
This figure is impressive but it doesnt take into account the extra costs of installing the additional technologies to make these savings possible. In theory a code for sustainable homes house should add 30% to a build cost. Property values are already very high, we have to face the reality that although people can see the long term benefits of an eco house the reality of obtaining a mortgage for 30% more than a standard house presents a challenge. What then if you could get an eco house made to your own specifications for a price that was comparible to a standard house from a property developer?
This is where the act of self building is the more economically viable option compared to buying one 'off the shelf' from a property developer. A self-build house should be worth more than its build cost on completion. Some figures suggest that homes are typically worth 25% to 30% more on completion than they cost to build. In theory, a self build eco house should be very close in its procurement cost to a standard house pruchased from a property developer.
It can be seen that there are potential long term savings to be gained from investing in a low energy home.Even if an individual has no interest in being 'green', it is hard to ignore the long term financial case. Indeed, a low energy dwelling can be seen as a wise investment in additional to the satisfaction derived from living in a bespoke, Architect designed home.