What Happened to EcoHomes?

Matthew Griffiths

April 8th, 2022
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The only way you can avoid the daily news bulletins that the world is being deeply affected by global warming is, ironically, by having your head stuck in a fridge.

Greta and her pals are doing a fine job of alerting the world to the growing global warming issue, whilst newspapers and the News At Ten provide undeniable proof that there’s a problem.

Today’s front pages are likely to cover anything from the reducing ice levels in the Antarctic, the stronger storms battering the UK from a supercharged jet stream, or perhaps the severe floods in Australia.

What are we doing about it? Well, Tesla’s Model 3 is one of the top-selling cars in the UK, even with a starting price in excess of £40,000, whilst local councils provide recycling bins and fewer refuge collections to encourage us to be more green and produce less waste.

So, it seems an odd time to discover that concerning the construction of new homes, the Ecohomes standards have been dropped. Within the name, it said everything we needed to know. So why has EcoHomes gone, and has it been replaced?

What was EcoHomes

It might come as a big surprise that EcoHomes was actually dropped way back in April of 2008.

It was established in 2004 as the domestic equivalent to Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method, better known as BREEAM. BREEAM is a means of accessing the sustainability and environmental impact of non-residential construction, refurbishment and infrastructure projects by assessing and setting minimum standards.

Likewise, EcoHomes was established to do the same job for homes built for you and me and covered:

  • Energy – Dwelling Emission Rate / Building fabric / Drying space / Ecolabelled goods / Internal lighting / External lighting
  • Transport – Public transport / Cycle storage / Local amenities / Home office
  • Pollution – Insulant GWP / NOx emissions / Reduction of surface runoff / Renewable and low emission energy source / Flood risk
  • Materials – Environmental impact of materials / Responsible sourcing of materials: basic building elements / Responsible sourcing of materials: finishing elements / Recycling facilities
  • Water – Internal potable water use / External potable water use
  • Land Use and Ecology – Ecological value of site / Ecological enhancement / Protection of ecological features / Change of ecological value of site / Building Footprint
  • Health and Wellbeing – Daylighting / Sound insulation / Private space
  • Management – Home user guide / Considerate constructors / Construction site impacts /

The assessed environmental performance of these areas is similar to an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), but for a developer to prove, dwellings could be awarded different EcoHomes awards. Sometimes within a planning consent, there could be a minimum level that had to be achieved by the developer before the property could be sold.

EcoHomes Levels:

  • Pass
  • Good
  • Very Good
  • Excellent

The higher the level, the better the marketing tool for the developer, but equally, if it were a requirement under planning, the more difficult and expensive it would be to achieve.

What happened to EcoHomes?

As mentioned, at the end of the first quarter of 2008, EcoHomes was no more and was replaced by the Code for Sustainable Homes.

What is Code for Sustainable Homes?

A revised, updated, and improved system of assessing, rating, and certifying new homes’ environmental impact and performance.

The Code’s primary aim was to create more sustainable homes and help reduce the UK’s CO2 emissions.

Mandatory in England, Wales and Northern Ireland until March 2015, the Code assessed design elements and the constructed building in order to rate and certify.

Nine categories were identified for this assessment to be carried out over:

  • Energy and carbon dioxide emissions
  • Water
  • Materials
  • Surface water run-off
  • Waste
  • Pollution
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Management
  • Ecology

Furthermore, the Code for Sustainable Homes contained seven additional areas where minimum mandatory performance standards were to be achieved. These consisted of:

  • Environmental impact of materials
  • Management of surface water run-off from
  • Storage of non-recyclable and recyclable waste
  • Emission rate
  • Indoor water use
  • Fabric energy efficiency
  • Lifetime homes

Upon the completion of construction, an assessment for each area would be carried out by a trained Code Assessor, who would award a property a star rating between 1 and 6 stars: the higher score, the better the performance. The stars were also known as Levels 1 to 6.

However, with ever-increasing pressures to further reduce carbon emissions, the UK Government upped the stakes in 2015 by implementing a minimum standard for all new dwellings, equivalent to Code Level 4.

This new directive saw an end to the Code for Sustainable Homes as a mandatory requirement. Instead, the new minimum standards were incorporated within Building Regulations.

What Are Building Regs?

Building Regulations, or Building Regs for short, are minimum standards and requirements for how construction works must be designed and built.

Implemented by the UK Government, Building Regulations consist of ten ‘Parts’ and six schedules.

What does Building Regs Cover?

The main ten ‘Parts’ consist of:

  • Part A – Structure
  • Part B – Fire Safety
  • Part C – Site preparation and resistance to contaminants and moisture
  • Part D – Toxic Substances
  • Part E – Resistance to the passage of sound
  • Part F – Ventilation
  • Part G – Sanitation, hot water safety and water efficiency
  • Part H – Drainage and Waste Disposal
  • Part J – Combustion appliances and fuel storage systems
  • Part K – Protection from falling, collision and impact
  • Part L – Conservation of fuel and power
  • Part M – Access to and use of buildings
  • Part P – Electrical Safety
  • Part Q – Security
  • Part R – Electronic communications.

A new build property must meet the minimum requirements to be awarded certification by building control. If it does not, then it will not be certified. Without the certificate, a property cannot be sold.

Summary

EcoHomes may be gone, but not forgotten. EcoHomes has left a lasting legacy on how we design and build dwellings. Along with its replacement, Code for Sustainable Homes, the concept and principles set out by each are now interwoven into the fabric and foundation of building design and operation.

No longer requiring an attention-grabbing headline to sit under, we have moved on enough that these sustainability requirements are standard practice and are here to stay and will no doubt be tightened and improved in the future.

Photo by Darya Jum on Unsplash

About Matthew Griffiths

Matthew takes great pleasure in combining his two professions. One has seen him give two decades of service to the construction industry, from roles as an Estimator through to sitting on Boards. The second is his passion for the written word. He now has the best of both worlds, building homes and constructing written content.

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