Building sustainably to meet homeowner demands

Authored by Chris Coxon, Group Head of Marketing at Eurocell plc

Over the past decade the public has become increasingly aware of sustainability issues, demanding greater consideration to be given to the issue in everything that they use and buy. This trend has rapidly accelerated in the two years since David Attenborough brought ocean plastic to the public’s attention in the BBC documentary Blue Planet.

The factors driving the demand for sustainable homes

This is undoubtedly a positive change in public perception as it encourages businesses across the board to pay more consideration to their environmental impact. And this is no different when it comes to the homes that people live in and how they expect them to be built.

In addition to the general increase in awareness of sustainability issues, one of the key drivers behind the demand for sustainability features is local authorities and social housing providers regularly incorporating such considerations into housebuilding voluntarily rather than as a result of legislation.

Explaining this trend, Steve Marshall, Architect Director and Head of Housing at BDP commented: “Some of our local authority clients like to be seen as leading the way and pushing standards when it comes to sustainability. They need to be seen to be doing the right thing and as such will go above and beyond minimum requirements. It might take time for this to impact the standards that others build to, but this may happen as buyers start to ask why the council is offering something that private developers are not.”

Indeed, this increased demand for sustainable homes was reflected in research conducted by Eurocell which found that over half of consumers believe it is important that their home is made using environmentally-responsible materials. Furthermore, when asked about their preferred sustainability features, consumers identified double/triple glazing as the most appealing (58%), followed by solar panels (35%), energy efficient appliances (34%) and the use of recycled and sustainable building products (22%).

Understanding sustainability when it comes to building homes

These findings clearly highlighted two things; first there is an undeniable public demand for sustainably built homes, and second the understanding of what sustainably means in the context of how a home is built is limited. So, what does building a ‘sustainable home’ mean in practice?

Broadly speaking ‘sustainable’ means producing houses that are designed to reduce their overall environmental impact, both during and after construction. Doing so will future-proof homes, reducing the carbon impact of both the material used in the build and the completed home, consequently making them more affordable to run for owners through enhanced energy efficiency.

As such, sustainability goes far beyond what a potential homeowner may understand or define it as when it comes to building a property. Analysing the findings, James Roberts, Project Architect at SimpsonHaugh, said: “It comes down to what is tangible. People understand the concept of double glazing and smart meters, for example. However, if you look at the sustainability credentials of the materials used, or how air tight a home is, these are less tangible yet can have an equally significant impact on how sustainable a home is. As such, willingness to invest in some ‘sustainable design features’ is likely to increase as the public’s understanding of them does. Some they will already be investing in, without appreciating it.”

Placing sustainability in the foundations of the homes of the future

With this in mind it is vital that, as the homes of the future are designed and built, that sustainability goes beyond just want the public can see and is familiar with. While considerations such as solar panels and using environmentally friendly materials are undoubtedly important, the construction sector can go much further in its efforts to build sustainable homes. This could include, but is not limited to, improving air tightness of buildings, considering water run off collection, and including air flow systems that enable hot and cold air to be drawn from outside to regulate temperature.

What’s more, it is crucial that as housebuilders and developers put in place those less tangible sustainability features, the sector informs and educates the public about them. At its most basic level this starts with including and explaining sustainability features clearly in marketing materials and properly explaining the benefits to potential buyers. By doing so the sector will not only take great strides forward in improving its own record on the environment but also ensure that more of the homes it builds have sustainability inherently embedded in their foundations.