Mind the Gap

As the Department for Communities and Local Government digests the mountain of responses to its reportedly record-breaking consultation on the Government’s Housing Standards Review, the industry needs to prepare for the changes to come.  A key proposal of the review was the introduction of space labelling – the first time that Government has recognised a legitimate role for consumers of housing in achieving and maintaining standards.  The Cabinet Office has said it believes that whatever system of labelling is adopted, it would ideally spring from an industry based voluntary arrangement and would not be imposed from Whitehall.  The Housing Forum has responded to this challenge with a proposal for an action research project amongst its diverse membership – over 100 organisations from right across the industry representing the public and private sectors as well as all parts of the supply chain.

The Housing Forum project, to be called ‘Mind the Gap!’ explores the opportunities that would arise if the gaps in information available to consumers of housing were to be replaced with readily comprehensible labelling that would enable customers to make comparisons between the different choices available in a meaningful way, based on performance.  The proposed project has received wide support from senior figures in the industry, including Peter Bolton-King, Head of Residential at RICS, Stephen Hodder, RIBA President, Peter Hansford, Chief Government Adviser and David Lunts, Executive Director of Housing and Land at the GLA.  Mark Clare, CEO of Barratt Developments has also offered his support.  He said:

“I’m personally very supportive of this project to promote voluntary performance labelling because we need something that is easily understandable, easy to calculate accurately and is meaningful. From customer feedback I believe that measures like total floor area, room sizes, storage space, cost of running the home, natural light and Broadband speeds (one of the key things that customers want today) would be good. It has to be for customers and not industry professionals!

We do need an easily understood measure of the energy efficiency of homes to replace the Code (for Sustainable Homes) – something that the customer understands. Whatever we come up with must be non technical and valuable to customers – the equivalent of an A rated electrical appliance label.  And anything that can be done to help valuers understand the benefits of well designed, cheaper to run homes would be really helpful!”

The project will be launched at The Housing Forum’s annual conference on April 3rd when member organisations and their collaborators will be invited to submit designs in digital format using Building Information Modelling software. The Housing Forum has reached agreement with BLP Insurance to use their Butterfly software which can readily assess the performance of designs in a variety of digital formats in terms of energy consumption, costs in use, as well as embodied energy.  In addition, the Housing Forum will assess the designs in terms of spatial efficiency, storage provision and daylight levels.  In the first phase of the project, planned for completion in the early autumn, Mind the Gap! Intends to collaborate with a property comparison website to illustrate how these parameters of performance could be clearly displayed to enable prospective customers to compare the relative merits of different designs.

The objective of this first phase of the project is to explore techniques of Home Performance Labelling and to illustrate diversity of choice in the market place.  This is not therefore a competition and it is not anticipated that the outcome will be to identify designs that perform better or worse – rather the objective is to show that there are a wide range of reasons for chosing a home which can be clearly identified and measured.

In subsequent phases of the project it is intended to develop this thinking into a more comprehensive voluntary rating scheme by means of which housing performance can be clearly measured and compared, and later on, the Housing Forum hopes to extend its long tradition of Demonstration Projects with a longitudinal study of the schemes submitted for Mind the Gap! based on post occupancy evaluation.  Thus the project aims not only to explore how the industry might fill the woeful gap that currently exists in helpful information for customers of housing, but it also aims to throw light on the gaps between predicted and as-built performance, as well as performance in use.  It is worth noting one significant reason buildings often disappoint designers, constructors and customers thrown up by the CIBSE/RIBA benchmarking exercise ‘CarbonBuzz’ – buildings can sometimes consume between 1.5 and 2.5 times their predicted energy use.

Why has this project attracted so much interest and support?  It is worth cataloguing the potentially beneficial outcomes of clear Home Performance Labelling and consumers that in due course would become well informed and familiar with the relative benefits:

  • Greater awareness of the cost in use savings of more energy efficient homes creating a consumer pull towards better performing new build and retrofitting of energy saving measures to existing stock.
  • Appreciation of the relative cost per square meter of different homes creating a consumer pull towards better value, larger homes.
  • Benchmarking of appropriate space in areas that have become critical in both new and second hand homes – especially adequate storage and space in bedrooms.
  • A growing understanding of the benefits of sunlight and daylight in improving internal climate, living conditions, health and wellbeing, resulting in better design.
  • In due course, as these performance measures bed into the market and consumer based rating schemes become influential, pressure on designers and developers based on consumer feedback will begin to improve quality and value generally.
  • Such well understood and popular rating schemes are likely to increase public approval of new developments able to display high scores, thereby reducing the tendency for neighbours of new development to put up NIMBY resistance.
  • Research into measures that will reduce the disparity between the predicted performance of homes and the actual experience of users revealed by the CarbonBuzz project.
  • Public understanding of energy performance should provide policy makers with fiscal levers with which to reward consumers who make parsimonious choices and discourage those with a tendency to make profligate ones.
  • Similarly, private sector providers of services will be able to offer differential rates based on building performance just as some mortgage providers in Northern Europe already offer better terms for more energy and cost efficient designs.
  • And valuers assessing the vacant capital value as well as portfolio values based on revenue will be able to take proper account of the impact of building and design quality and performance in making assessments which more closely reflect customer preferences, values and revenue implications.

These ten reasons help to explain why Stephen Hodder, President of the RIBA has spoken in support of the Mind the Gap! project:

“We welcome this initiative from the Housing Forum, which reflects one of the main goals of our HomeWise campaign for better new homes, which  has made the case for a more consumer-oriented housing market and better, more transparent marketing information.

We want to see clearer, standardised and benchmarked product labelling provided by all developers and estate agents so that people are able to make more informed decisions when choosing a home. Product labelling, in addition to robust nationally defined housing standards in areas such as space, energy efficiency and daylighting would be a big step forward in ensuring we build homes that are built to last and meet the needs of 21st century lifestyles.”

At the Housing Forum we are convinced we are onto an idea whose time has now arrived.


Benjamin Derbyshire, Managing Partner

HTA Design LLP


External Walls

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