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The ‘ Code for Sustainable Development ’: Is This the Future of Home Building?


If anyone thought the Code for Sustainable Homes was going to be the future of the home building, they may have to think again. First introduced in 2006, the Code is (or was) a national standard in England, Northern Ireland, and Wales, used in the design and construction of new homes to improve sustainability. It set out the method for certifying the performance of new-built homes in EnglandWales and Northern Ireland. However, the Code is not mandatory nor is it defined by a set of regulations.

But a lot has happened since its introduction that has muddied the waters. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

What exactly is the Code for Sustainable Development?

The ‘Code for Sustainable Development’: Is This the Future of Home Building?

All new homes are assigned a rating from Level 1 to Level 6, based on how they measure up to the nine sustainability categories, all of which are integrated to help assess the overall impact on the environment. The Code is (or was) the responsibility of the Department for Communities and Local Government and includes:

~ Water

~ Materials

~ Energy, or CO2 emissions

~ Run-off of surface water

~ Pollution

~ Waste

~ Ecology

~ Health and well-being

~ Management

Some elements are obligatory for compliance but others are discretionary, and some local authorities required self-builders to comply with Level 4 of the Code for Sustainable Homes. The Code focused on specific elements of a new build: thermal efficiency, collection of rainwater, etc. The success of meeting the nine Code categories comes from proper planning and great design. It’s important to know at the design stage how many category credits will be gained. Making minor tweaks to the design – the size of the windows, the position of the doors, the placement of waste bins, and so on – can make a meaningful difference to the final Code score.

For a time, pressure on local authorities to adopt the Code lessened, mainly due to the building industry downturn. This resulted in there being more distance between the Code and the Building Regulations.In Wales, Code Level 3 was applied to all new developments irrespective, and with Wales creating their own Building Regulations, it will be interesting to see how and if they integrate the Code requirements.

What about the cost?

The extra cost of achieving Code Level 3 for a four-bedroom house is 5.5% and 10.6% for Level 4, or £9,450, of which £6,536 is taken up just to meet the renewable energy requirements.

Will meet the Code requirements increase the value of my house?

The ‘Code for Sustainable Development’: Is This the Future of Home Building?
The ‘ Code for Sustainable Development ’: Is This the Future of Home Building?

Not really. Although environment-friendly houses can command top-end prices, because the Code has not been properly established, or is not well-known, it hasn’t had a major impact on price on its own.

Does the Code for Sustainable Development help in any way with planning consent?

Probably not. Even if local authorities are influenced by a Code Level 6 home, they are governed by their own planning policies and may not view the Code as part of the planning process.

Are architects aware of the Code for Sustainable Development?

Yes, and no. Some architects are aware of exactly what’s required to fulfill the Code’s conditions, but others know very little. Together with the budget, it’s essential to the overall success that the home is designed, at the outset, to meet the Code’s standards. In any event, as you’ll have to have an accredited Code assessor, it’s a good idea to get this person involved in the project at a very early stage.

Does the Code mean I will need special materials and products?

For the most part, no. Certainly not in terms of the construction of the building itself. But there may be certain energy devices and bicycle storage units that you might not need. For all the specialist products you may require, and some you won’t, you can visit the Code Store.

Applauding the scheme

The WWF welcomed the Code for Sustainable Development for including zero carbon development and ‘whole house’ carbon emissions. But a zero carbon building only attains Level 1 of the Code, unless a series of other measures are adopted.

Dissing the Scheme

Industry commentators criticized the Code for being redundant, as it was fashioned on the existing Eco-Homes scheme. In March 2011, the WWF representative on the Steering Group resigned due to the government’s non-acceptance of their recommendations.

Three years later, in March 2014, the government announced plans to consolidate housing regulations and standards, and decided to do away with the Code for Sustainable Homes, although some performance standards were integrated into Building Regulations.

Finally, in March 2015, the Government for new developments withdrew the Code for Sustainable Homes, but it continues to run for ‘legacy developments’ in England, Northern Ireland and in Wales.

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Mike James
Mike James, an independent content writer working together with Sussex-based boiler system, central heating and renewable energy specialist BSW Energy, who were consulted over the information contained in this post.

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