Climate change committee highlights homes threat

An urgent need to design new homes to be resistant to overheating and flooding is highlighted by the Climate Change Committee. So why build new homes out of lightweight materials?

We are on the road to zero carbon. The UK’s sixth Carbon Budget, announced in April, enshrined ambitious carbon reduction into law. 

However, even as we collectively grapple with the challenges of removing carbon from our current and future businesses, the Climate Change Committee, in its June Assessment of UK Climate Risk highlights just how unprepared the UK is for the climate change that is already happening.

Focusing on increasingly erratic weather patterns, the CCC considers housing design, highlighting the principle risks associated with common housing types. 

Top of the list is overheating. Temperatures are rising in the UK and even the more moderate climate observers anticipate that by the middle of this century summer temperatures will be peaking nearer to 40 degrees centigrade than 30.

The report considers that the current 2,000 heat-related deaths each year could triple by the 2050s – a sobering consideration.  And if homeowners start to install air conditioning systems to combat the problem, then all the gains achieved by improving the energy efficiency of new homes over the last twenty years could be entirely nullified.

Next on the list is flooding. The report notes that 1.9 million people across all areas of the UK are exposed to frequent flooding from either river, coastal or surface water flooding – a total that is likely to increase even further.

A flooded home is not only an immediate disaster for the occupants but leads to ongoing problems of damp and rot in the structure of the home.

So why is an aircrete manufacturer taking such a close interest in the Climate Change Committee forecasts? 

First, we have always believed that a sustainable house has to last for generations. There can be no argument in favour of building houses at volume that will need to be replaced in less than 100 years.  Short-term profligate use of resource cannot be sustainable in the long term.

Building a home that is going to last for over a century – and particularly one that is sufficiently resilient to cope with the increased pressure of new weather patterns – means using robust, durable materials that don’t rot, burn or decay and that actively contribute to both thermal insulation and moderating summer temperatures.

Homes built of aircrete masonry materials will stand the test of time and we have no doubt then when durability is the test, masonry buildings win the sustainability argument.

When it comes to embodied carbon, the picture changes.  We welcome a new and robust focus on embodied carbon calculations and particularly on a universal agreement of what data is used in the calculation process. Only when all manufacturers are using the same data will industry be able to make informed choices between different materials. 

In our Group Sustainability Report, H+H sets out the basis for its zero carbon roadmap.  We have followed the principle of using science-based targets to ensure we have independently agreed benchmarks against which to measure our progress, and a clearly defined route to reach zero carbon manufacturing by 2050.

We are only one element in a complex supply chain. To constrain the worsening impact of climate change the housebuilding sector needs to work collectively with the aim of building durable, sustainable homes at scale quickly using materials and processes that minimise carbon emissions and deliver long term value.  

Every manufacturer has work to do in order to meet the twin challenges of an acute housing shortage and zero carbon targets. H+H is no different and it facing up to the challenges robustly in the knowledge that aircrete has a significant role to play in forward-thinking modern housing.

By Anna Williamson
Building Solutions Research Manager