Energy efficiency should be at the heart of all developing associations, says Sue Chalkley of Hastoe
Thankfully, there now seems to be cross-party buy-in to the fact that we need to fix our broken housing market and that part of the solution is to build more homes that are affordable, whatever their tenure. The general election has provided policymakers with a very clear message from many people, especially the young, that they need homes and houses that are affordable.
For Hastoe, the affordability of a home is something that should be permanently built into its fabric, rather than only linked to a particular rent regime. Building highly energy-efficient homes is not just worthy and good for the environment, it reduces fuel bills substantially and improves quality of life for their occupiers. The University of East Anglia has been monitoring the fuel costs of our first Passivhaus scheme, built six years ago now, and we can demonstrate that the average fuel cost for a three-bedroom house is £125 per annum. This, for me, is true affordability.
As a rural housing specialist, rural fuel poverty is of great concern to us. Many rural communities are not connected to the gas main and so depend on electricity or oil for fuel – so building highly energy-efficient homes is even more important in this context. On top of that, we develop rural exception sites and their low land values allow lower densities and more scope for an innovative approach, which is always welcomed by the communities with which we work.
Hastoe is not a large association but we have a huge ambition, which is to do what we can to build a sustainable, mainstreamed market for highly energy-efficient homes. We have a Passivhaus programme that has delivered one-third of the UK’s accredited Passivhaus homes. In one village, we have now completed (at the request of the parish council) our second Passivhaus scheme. We have even had a tenant transfer from one Passivhaus scheme to another because she needed a bigger home.
Our plan is to keep working at the standard so that we can understand it and reduce the build costs. We are also working to achieve increased sales values which, combined with reduced build costs, will make the development of highly energy-efficient homes a good option for other developers. To date, we have seen increases coming through on shared ownership and open market sales homes of around £10,000. Things are starting to shift, slowly, but a change is happening.
Our plans now are to develop a Hastoe standard of energy efficiency, built on what we have learned over the years from building highly energy-efficient homes. We have a good understanding of what works and believe the sector needs a standard that has been developed by a practitioner, that will build confidence and encourage take-up. We are just about to launch a new open market sale subsidiary, Lowen Homes, which will build and sell homes to this standard – and expect a premium on sales values. We hope this will start to make the case for valuers, who often consider comparables when valuing properties.
Building new homes to high environmental standards is very important – but retrofitting our existing homes is absolutely vital, too. We have developed our Hastoe Green Homes Standard as a target for our retrofit programme, so that we can measure the impact of various interventions and monitor our progress in raising the energy efficiency of existing, older homes.
Typically, our retrofit works are integrated with our maintenance programme to minimise disruption for tenants and increase value for money. As expected, our core works are cavity wall and loft insulation, replacing boilers with super energy-efficient ones and fitting low-tech devices. We have also retrofitted more than 200 solar photovoltaic panels and 224 ground source heat pumps. The programme is saving residents £200 per year on average on their energy bills and has reduced the homes’ carbon footprint by 8,100 tonnes per year (the equivalent of 61,000 cars).
Climate change is a very serious issue. For Hastoe, we will keep on doing what we can to minimise our carbon footprint, to educate staff and tenants and to raise awareness of solutions. We will do this even at times like this, when there is so little encouragement – or even indirect discouragement – from the government and the regulator. The issue is the most important long-term issue that our world faces and we should all do what we can to address it. This makes moral as well as business sense.
Sue Chalkley, chief executive, Hastoe
This article was written independently and was commissioned as part of a package sponsored by Sustainable Homes