Open Rooms: From zero-carbon to zero-hours

Image copyright Fiona Lister Image caption The houses are designed to be as energy-efficient as possible

Bordering on carbon neutrality is not something that many of us have thought about in relation to the UK’s housing.

As the current housing crisis is now under international scrutiny, this is starting to change.

Developers are no longer solely focussed on growth but cutting carbon footprints.

Fiona Lister is a British entrepreneur who has focused her energy on creating “low carbon homes” and has now become involved in several global initiatives working with partners in the real estate sector to boost energy efficiency.

Ms Lister has been involved in energy efficiency in buildings for more than 20 years, including working with major multi-nationals in supermarkets and commercial buildings.

“Energy efficiency is now at a number of different levels, it isn’t just energy”, she says.

“We’re talking in terms of using energy more efficiently, going more renewable, natural materials, using thermal imaging to be more accurate in achieving performance and new home designs that are much more sustainable in their construction and decor.”

Ms Lister is currently working on a variety of initiatives – including support to the 100 Percent Zero Energy/Zero Carbon energy codes – with British business pioneers like energy company EDF.

“We want to increase the amount of net zero energy homes and increase the amount of zero carbon houses in the UK, which is important when you think about it.

“We want to give homes the same sort of energy use efficiency that we see in European and Asian cities, where energy efficient homes are very prevalent.”

Ms Lister also says sustainability and energy efficiency has become integral to life in the UK.

“Even if you’ve got a car you just drive into an eco-park – with petrol prices at unprecedented levels everyone is becoming more conscious.

“The idea of buying a house for the amenities of the property – being well connected, good insulation – and living an eco-life, living a net zero energy life is not as alien a concept as it used to be.”

The drive to make homes more sustainable is as much political as it is residential, says social housing expert, Sam Drury.

Speaking at a LSE Real Estate event earlier this month, he says this is part of the conflict between what he describes as “socially responsible” housing – where housing is built with a better social impact on the environment – and the “cheapest” housing.

Image copyright Oxford University Image caption Sam Drury says to demand high-quality housing like these could cause overcrowding

He explains that the “socially responsible” housing movement is “telling us we’ve got to build houses for the communities that we live in”.

But Mr Drury says there is a conflict between building high-quality housing for people and the demand for cheap houses – and it is “popping up in quite a lot of places”.

“We need people with better education and skills in our society who can build a more environmentally-sound model of housing.

“We need to challenge this [pricing principle] – we all want to enjoy good energy performance as much as possible but we should also be thinking about how affordable housing is and the pressure it puts on the other side – the communities that we need to support”.

If we look at communities as a “public good”, then how can we build buildings that can serve the needs of all the other people living in them – and sustain the social demands for this kind of housing?

Image copyright Liz Tew

Ms Tew, Professor of Sustainability at the University of Oxford, says the sustainability movement has reached a stage where high-quality housing is now not just a luxury but “a public good”.

But the problem with housing in the UK is that it is “far too expensive”, she adds.

Professors Tew and Drury agree that if we are to have decent housing for everyone we need to question the the affordability of our housing.

Prof Tew says: “Socialisation of housing, the creation of communities and the creation of a social goods is something that we will have to challenge.

“One of the other factors is the lack of supply – we need a lot more housing stock and therefore we need a lot more homes to rent.”

Prof Drury says: “I’m not going to lie, this is a radical solution to a problem that people have been denying for many, many years.

“But perhaps if we think about other things as well, such as back-of-the-box housing and people moving out of larger accommodation into smaller accommodation, maybe that is where we can get there, because it’s a radical idea but if you think it through in a more radical way you can

Leave a Comment