Government policy on buildings and energy efficiency


Zero Carbon Homes

In 2006, the Labour Government first proposed the zero carbon homes standards, which, through a series of tightening measures, would have ensured that all new homes were zero carbon within 10 years. The policy was then carried forwards by the Coalition Government but in 2015 it was decided that the proposals would not be implemented with ministers citing ‘significant regulatory burden on housebuilders and developers’ which was thought to lead to the construction of fewer homes. Zero carbon homes proposals would have cut emissions from new homes to zero, via a combination of on-site low-carbon electricity generation, energy efficiency measures and off-site carbon abatement.

Research shows the cost of building a zero carbon home is just 1.4% more than a standard home, with resulting energy bills 80% lower than the national standard. The cancellation of this proposal is concerning given research suggests that residential emissions need to be close to zero by 2050 if the UK is to meet carbon targets, considering the difficulty in cutting emissions in other sectors.

You can download a full briefing on this policy here from ECIU.


Energy Efficiency

Energy Efficient homes are the first step in tackling climate change in the building sector to reduce emissions. The In the Clean Growth Strategy, the Government committed to increase the efficiency of fuel poor homes to EPC band C by 2030 and of all homes by 2035. You can find out more about fuel poverty by visiting our resource here.

In the Clean Growth Strategy, the Government committed £640m each year between 2018 and 2022 for upgrading the energy efficiency of fuel poor homes, but research from the IPPR found that £1.3 billion per year between 2019 and 2030 is needed to meet this target set by the Government.

 The Scottish Government has designed an Energy Efficiency Programme (SEEP). The goal is that by 2035, SEEP will have transformed the energy efficiency and heating of Scottish buildings so that, wherever technically feasible and practical, buildings are near zero carbon.

A group of MPs are currently working on rising block tariffs. This tariff would mean that for example: consumers would get the 1st 100 units of energy for free. The next 100 units of energy would be the same price as what we pay today. Any further energy would be more expensive, increasing in increments. The idea of these tariffs are to discourage excessive energy use in homes, but obviously there would need to be special case scenarios in place.


Energy efficiency in the rented sector is particularly poor in the UK. There are about 680,000 rented properties in England with the worst energy efficiency ratings of F and G. Over 40% of households in the worst insulated rented homes live in fuel poverty (DECC, 2010). From the 1st April 2018 there will be a requirement for any properties rented out in the private rented sector to have a minimum energy performance rating of E on an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) (ResidentsLandlord Association). The lowest efficiency rating is G, so therefore E is still incredibly low efficiency. 

CASE STUDY: Passive House

Passive House is a voluntary energy efficiency standard for buildings. It is a construction concept that means homes and buildings built to this standard are highly ecologically efficient. Passive House buildings allow for heating and cooling related energy savings of up to 90% compared with typical building stock and over 75% compared with average new builds. They make use of passive solar design. Building to the Passive House standard requires investment in higher quality building components required but this cost is mitigated by the elimination of expensive heating and cooling systems. 




The Government is set to achieve its target of improving the efficiency of fuel poor homes to EPC band C by 2030 through retrofitting. Retrofitting includes the addition of new features to older buildings such as better insulation, double or triple glazing and blocking drafts.

Smart Meter Rollout

 The government wants energy suppliers to install smart meters in every home in England, Wales and Scotland as part of an £11 billion rollout. There are more than 26 million homes for the energy suppliers to get to, with the goal of every home being offered a smart meter by 2020. The programme is funded by consumers through higher energy bills.

Ofgem say: ‘Smart meters give consumers near real time information on energy use – expressed in pounds and pence –  so that they will be able to better manage their energy use, save money and reduce emissions. Smart meters will also bring an end to estimated billing, meaning consumers will only be billed for the energy they actually use, helping them budget better.’

There have been problems reported with the rollout of smart meters up to now, with over one million of the estimated 12 million currently installed not currently functioning properly. There are reports of the meters being ‘dumb’ meaning that they do not send meter readings to suppliers or display usage in pounds and pence.

A group of 93 MPs co-signed a report from the British Infrastructure Group which found that the expected saving on an annual dual fuel bill in 2020 had more than halved, from £26 to £11.14. Experts also estimate it costs approximately £250 to install a smart meter.

The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said, ‘we welcome ideas on how to ensure the ongoing success of the smart meter roll out and are already working with Ofgem on issues raised in the report.’

The need for behavioural change

Research in 2011 found that architectural solutions alone are necessary, but alone they will not help us to meet our carbon reduction targets. Alongside changing the form of the built environment, we also need to change our behaviour:

“Buildings don’t use energy, people do.” (Janda, 2011).

For example, in order for the Passive House standard or passive solar construction techniques to work to their highest efficiency, buildings must be airtight* so as to not interfere with the solar gain processes. If inhabitants are to open windows, there will be issues in the systems working to their maximum. Therefore, education is important.

*The passive house standard has requirements for ventilation systems rather than opening windows.



Mayor of London ‘Energy for Londoners’

The Mayor of London has launched a pilot scheme for whole-house refurbishment for 10 homes built between 1950 and 1980 including insulated roofs and walls and solar panels for space heating, hot water and electrical appliances. The scheme will use the Energie Sprong model and look at how it can be rolled out more widely, to support those living in fuel poverty. With a need for London to build 66,000 new homes every year to a zero carbon standard, there is significant scope to apply the model to new build housing.  

Read more about the Energy for Londoner’s scheme here.

Read more about the pilot house refurbishment scheme here.

Date of Publication: 28.07.2018