Zero Carbon HomesWith green issues high on the agenda this year there’s a lot being talked about and introduced to tackle one of the biggest contributors of climate change – our homes. With 27% of the UK’s overall CO2 emissions coming from our homes, reducing energy in this area of our lives is essential. Going ‘zero carbon’ in the home is one of the new terms that have been debated, in parliament and throughout the housing industry. It sounds impressive, if a little too good to be true – so what is zero carbon all about?

What Does Zero Carbon Mean?

Put simply, a zero carbon home uses less energy than it generates over a set period of time. A carbon footprint is calculated for the full life of the home, including the CO2 emissions created during the build of a house and its day-to-day energy needs. This figure is then offset by the property’s ability to produce the energy it needs itself – through wind turbines, <#66#>solar panels<#> and other renewable sources of energy – all important elements that have been purpose-built into the home in the design.

If a property is able to become fully sustainable, and even have excess renewable energy supplies that can benefit others, then it’s become a fully zero carbon home. Part of the key to going zero carbon in the home is an awareness of how to make the property itself more energy efficient and finding ways to reduce our everyday energy needs.

How Is The UK Going Zero Carbon?

Making our homes zero carbon has hit the headlines recently, with plans unveiled by the government in December 2006 that would help to make all new homes in the UK zero carbon by an ambitious 2016. It has set out plans to encourage property developers and builders to include carbon efficient measures into building design, including sources of renewable energy generation, energy efficient walls and roofs, as well as devising new ways to encourage minimal energy consumption.

Gordon Brown also announced in his pre-budget report last December that eventually it would be compulsory for new buildings to be zero carbon, and that the UK was leading the way towards becoming a nation of green homeowners. Crucially, Brown also announced that environmentally-friendly homes would be exempt from stamp duty, making them cheaper for people to buy.

What About Existing Homes?

For existing homes, the new Energy Performance Certificates or EPCs, which rate a property between A-G on its energy efficiency, look likely to have a high impact in putting green issues high on homebuyer’s and seller’s wish lists – when they are eventually introduced.

As part of the controversial new Home Information Packs in England and Wales, it was announced that EPCs would be delayed until August 2007, when only property sales of four or more bedrooms would need to be graded on their energy efficiency. These will then be rolled out to smaller property types when more energy assessors, the trained inspectors who grade homes on energy efficiency, are available.

Welcoming Changes

The measures being taken to help make the UK’s homes zero carbon have been welcomed by environmental groups. According to Friends of the Earth campaigner Liz Murray: ‘The key to low- and zero-carbon housing is maximising energy efficiency of these homes in the first instance and embedding within the design a means by which energy can be generated using micropower technologies as part of the structure. ‘The sooner all developers do this the better.’

The Reality of Zero Carbon

But how easy is it to build a zero carbon home? It’s certainly not a cheaper way for developers to create homes, but it is possible by using innovative design and materials, and will be more and more common once measures are put in place that make green building compulsory. Currently however only a very small number of the 150,000 homes built each year are sufficiently green enough to be classified with zero carbon status.

But zero carbon homes do exist, most famously the BedZED housing estate in Sutton. There, a BedZED home needs only 10% of the energy needed to heat a standard home to the same temperature, and has a range of renewable energy sources that make it completely zero carbon.