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What is the future of housing standards?

What role will standards play in shaping the future of housing? In this blog as part of our Future of Housing series, our own Gavin Summerson, City Standards Team Lead at the Connected Places Catapult starts the much-needed and long-awaited conversation around ensuring standards remain an effective tool for creating homes that are fit for the future as that very future fast approaches.

The report ‘UK Housing: Fit for the Future’, published by the Committee on Climate Change in February 2019, put it quite succinctly: “Our homes are not fit for the future.” This not only includes the 26 million homes that already exist but also the new homes we are building. To compound this, we are also living in a time of rapid technological change, which can be seen in the rise of the connected home device, automation, and digital construction techniques. So what role can standards play in helping create homes fit for the future? Are our housing standards themselves fit for that same future?

The future of housing standards is the future of housing as a whole

The topic of housing is a very personal one. For most of us, our home is the place around which we build our lives. It is where we raise our families and grow old. But they have many functions too. Whatever those functions might be, we require our homes to provide us with the environment we need to live our normal lives. Fast and stable internet speeds, quiet spaces, adaptations for care, space for children to play, good transport links, easy access to jobs. As our lives change, we need diverse and adaptable homes. The future, which is arguably already here, also demands our homes be high performing, zero carbon, healthy, resilient to climate change and cheaper to build. However, have we stopped to think about what occupants might actually want from their home?

Some research shows that many are more interested in where the home is located, such as being close to work, next to public transport, close to bars and restaurants, within a good school catchment area with green space nearby. There is also an increasing interest in connected home technology despite concerns over data privacy.

Standards for future housing

It was announced in April 2019 that a future home’s standard would be created by 2025. While some are reluctant to fully buy into this after the zero carbon homes standard was abandoned in 2016, others view it as a great opportunity to reinvigorate a conversation about housing standards, particularly with the renewed focus on climate change given the UK’s new legally binding commitment to meet net zero emissions by 2050. However, many remain sceptical. These voices believe a future home’s standard will not be so futuristic as it sounds and instead will, in the main, merely be an update to existing building regulations. So what is the future of standards for housing, beyond just updating building regulations?

Standards for housing are significant as they can be an enabler by providing a framework of best practice. Well-defined standards that are implemented effectively have the potential to deliver outcomes that affect the entire lifecycle of our homes. These include:

Five key things for the future of housing standards

If we are to create a future home’s standard by 2025, the fundamental issue is how we ensure that the standard delivers and how we can use this opportunity to consider some of the wider housing issues and innovation opportunities that could be unlocked by standards more broadly. A future homes standard will have potential lasting implications for many years to come. How could a revised set of future homes standards better enable quality, wellbeing or unleash the potential of how tech could improve quality of life in our homes?

1. We need a new conversation

As a result of past experience with the housing standards review that concluded in 2015, there are many reluctant to go there again. On the other hand, the need to look at housing is more urgent than ever. Therefore, we need a new conversation about how standards can unlock opportunities and focus on the outcomes. This includes the need for a better convening of stakeholders to create a shared vision for the future of housing, the outcomes we want to achieve collectively and how standards can unlock this potential.

2. Applying agile and user-centred design methods to standards development

The Code for Sustainable Homes (CfSH) was launched in 2007 to provide a framework for improving the sustainability of new homes, but it was subsequently scrapped in 2015 along with the zero carbon homes policy. While the CfSH had a big impact on the housing industry by way of improving adoption of sustainable design, the industry found it very complex to deal with. This resulted in an industry backlash, despite it being largely voluntary. The future of housing standards needs to learn from this and consider how the benefits of agile and user-centred design methods could improve the way standards are developed to improve adoption. An example of this is StandardsRepo, a new platform for community-driven open source standards.

3. Adopt systems thinking

Standards can often have unintended consequences. For example, if not fully considered, increasing energy efficiency standards have shown to cause issues with overheating and indoor air quality issues. The problem with standards is that they can often be developed in isolation as part of separate working groups or committees with poor integration. We need to adopt systems thinking and test this thinking out through iterative development, ensuring there is strong collaboration between different regulators and standards makers. Find out more about systems thinking in another CPC blog.

4. Assume a data-driven approach

The process of updating standards can be incredibly inefficient with a lack of consistency and transparency in the process. A shift in this approach could be achieved if we were to move towards having an improved evidence base to support the development and updating of housing standards that are based on open housing performance data. If homes become even more intelligent data hubs (as explored in another CPC blog), this could not only inform interventions that may be needed by standards and regulations but also be used to verify performance and inform designers of how different house types perform in practice, providing an ongoing feedback loop.

5. Evolve enforcement

Another issue with standards is the difficulties with enforcement. One example is the nationally described space standards. This can be applied where there is a local plan policy based on evidenced local need (eg retirement, sheltered and care homes), and where the viability of development is not compromised. However, as cited by RICS (Royal Institute for Chartered Surveyors), there are major problems with enforcing the standard as a result of poor visibility of planning conditions as well as the fact that enforcement is not a core function for planners. As a result, in June 2019 UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced a call for tougher design rules to prevent ‘tiny homes.’

Another example is energy efficiency. There is a major problem with the performance gap in the carbon emissions of new homes. This is currently two or three times higher than design estimates suggested in the 2016 Innovate UK Building Performance Evaluation Programme. The Committee on Climate Change has recommended a reform of energy modelling for compliance and towards accurate performance testing, committing developers to meet the standards they advertise. We, therefore, need to think of new innovative methods and business models that enable more intelligent methods of verifying the achievement of standards as well as ways of enforcing conditions. For example, if we were to make standards and planning policies machine-readable, this could enable the development of new digital tools that could automate compliance.

In summary, standards play a key role in setting the direction for the future of housing, but lessons we have learned from the past show we need a new conversation about standards. We need to think about the future of standards themselves, both in terms of how we best convene the market around a common goal, and the way in which we design and implement new standards to ensure they can work as an effective tool that enables positive lasting outcomes.

The Future of Housing programme is curating day of CityX, the Connected Places Business Expo, in November this year. Hear from innovators and disruptors about how they are transforming the industry to ensure we are building, and retrofitting homes fit for the future.

To find out more about our flagship event and buy your ticket, visit the CityX website today.

Watch some of the highlights from 2018’s conference below.

Are you interested in sharing your insights in this area? If you’d like to let us know about some of the projects you’re working on in this space, please email futureofhousing@cp.catapult.org.uk.

This blog is one in a series and is part of our new Future of Housing programme. Find out more about our work in this area by visiting our new Future of Housing knowledge hub.

Are you interested in sharing your insights in this area? If you’d like to let us know about some of the projects you’re working on in this space, please email futureofhousing@cp.catapult.org.uk.

Our Future of Housing blog series is intended as a platform for open debate. Views expressed are not necessarily those of the Connected Places Catapult.

Interested in this topic?

From the 23rd – 27th September we’ll be hosting “Housing Innovation Week” at the Connected Places Catapult.

This event forms part of our Future of Housing Programme, with the aim of generating innovative ideas and exploring new technologies to ensure our homes are designed, built and maintained to meet the needs of the generations to come.

Click here to find out more>>

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