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The future is greener

For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;

There’s a bit of a row down on the south coast. Fareham Borough Council, in Hampshire has approved plans for an eco-town, which were submitted under the last government.

7,000 homes are to be built in an area to the north of the M27, a goodly proportion of which are to be as energy-efficient as possible. Despite opposition from local residents, who have been arguing that the planned development would encroach on green belt land. citing an urgent need for new homes in the area.

A press release that hit my in-box this morning cites a council spokesman saying “People are living longer, there are more single households and there is a growing need for affordable homes”.

Well of course he’s right. So it’s great news for any builders merchants in the area. And it’s great news that there will be such an emphasis on making the homes – and hopefully, all the public buildings, schools and shops that are included in the plans – as green as possible.

But if we look at it in purely energy-saving, carbon-footprint terms, you wonder how much more benefit could be done to the planet by concentrating instead upon the existing housing stock in the area.

Yes, we need more new houses. Yes, we need them to be as energy-efficient as possible, both for the sake of the planet and the pockets of the people living in them. But there are an awful lot of houses out there that could really do with a bit of attention, efficiency-wise. The CO2 savings made by building homes to CSH level 4, 5, even 6 are a drop in the ocean compared to what could be saved if we had a structured, long-term plan for improving the efficiency of the existing UK housing stock.

This is going to become more obvious in the coming weeks as we all crank the thermostat up another notch and suddenly feel the draughts whistling through those old Victorian sash windows or that 1960s double glazing that’s coming to the end of its life.

The 26 million homes that make up the UK’s housing stock could make a significant difference to the UK’s carbon emissions and energy bills of they were all brought up to a reasonable standard of insulation. It’s all very well thinking about spending thousands on installing solar PV because you can get a bit back from the government from them, but if your existing heating controls aren’t up to the job anyway, it’s just good money after bad.

Lots of builders merchants have realised this already and there has been plenty of activity and development into the ‘eco-market’ with eco-branches, the BuildStore initiative with Burdens and Ecomerchant for eco-mortgages, renewable departments and now Jewson’s high-profile launch of the Sustainable Building Guide.

The good thing about getting the merchant sector involved in this is that they are the ones with the link to the people who will actually do the work and it’s the local builders and plumbers who have the contacts with the people who will pay for the work.

Get the householder on board with renovating their properties to improve efficiency and you’ll go a long way towards lowering our emissions and energy costs. Newbuild is all very well, but RMI will get us further.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Fiona Russell-Horne
Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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