Making homes fit for the future

Brian Berry, CEO of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), explores a potential, more sustainable future for housebuilding in the UK.

This summer’s floods – and last year’s heatwaves – remind us of the importance of future-proofing Britain’s homes. Ventilation and cooling to manage overheating in homes will become increasingly important in the years ahead, especially in our towns and cities.

It is welcome that the built environment is a key theme at this year’s COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow to consider the challenges we face. We must ensure that our homes are fit for the future.

Overheating in new homes

I welcomed the Government’s recent consultation on managing the risk of overheating in new homes, as part of the Future Buildings Standard. We must take a fabric-first approach to ventilation and cooling, to avoid increasing energy demand with air conditioning units.

Creative solutions are needed to avoid overheating, but to continue delivering the bi-folding doors and large windows that many house buyers are looking for. Small to medium-sized (SME) housebuilders build beautiful and bespoke homes, and creative design is their forte, they must therefore be at the heart of solutions to these challenges.

Finding a solution to the challenge of nutrient neutrality

Rural housing has its own challenges in tackling climate change and reversing the decline in biodiversity.

Development has stopped in some rural areas of the country because of an increase in nutrients like phosphates and nitrates entering the local waterways. While it is incredibly important to achieve ‘nutrient neutrality’ and protect our waterways, we must seek urgent solutions so that local builders can continue to deliver the homes that are needed for these communities.

I am joining calls for the UK Government to work with OFWAT to encourage a rapid programme of upgrading wastewater treatment works so that these can filter out nutrients from new developments before they enter watercourses.

The decision to cease development is particularly difficult for SMEs, who cannot down tools and pick up in other parts of the country like national developers with larger portfolios. I am concerned that the longer building work is not able to continue, the greater impact this will have on the cashflow and work programme for small firms in the affected areas. This doesn’t just affect housebuilders, but their contractors and supply chain, too.

Greening the way we build

No debate about future proofing our new homes is complete without considering the way we build, and the tradespeople behind the bricks.

There is plenty that the industry can do, working collectively, to reduce excessive waste created during the construction process. My members frequently tell me that they are concerned about the amount of plastic packaging that their products arrive in. Wrapping products in layers of plastic means increasing construction’s landfill contribution and the cost of waste removal. SMEs cannot sort and store waste on site as easily as larger firms, and need extra support to recycle materials. But we also need to reduce the amount of plastic that we use overall. This is a practical measure that would really help green our new homes.

Building energy efficient homes that are well ventilated will require additional training for many in the industry. It will also require a greater number of new people coming into the industry. SMEs will be at the heart of our training challenge, as 71% of apprentices are trained by small employers. However, we know that investing in training can be difficult when juggling the day-to-day challenges on site. Builders need greater support to recruit new apprentices who are a good match for the business. They also need greater financial support to train, so that they can divert an experienced tradesperson’s time away from the job and toward the next generation of talent, without impacting on their bottom line.