The heat is on: changes to the transition period for gas boiler ban
The Government’s recent announcement – and rapid back-step – from a potential ban on gas boilers in new homes by 2023 may have helped many housebuilders breathe a sigh of relief.
The 10-point green ‘industrial revolution plan’ published on November 18 would have given developers and builders little more than two years to find alternative solutions and, just as critically, seek improved insulation for homes that alternative heating needs to be most effective.
While housebuilders are committed to reducing carbon emissions, bringing the potential ban forward two years from the Future Homes Standard’s proposed 2025 would have caused significant challenges across the sector.
Yet the Government remains committed to a speedy implementation of a proposed uplift to Part L standards, with its consultation proposing tighter transitional arrangements be introduced for the 2025 changes.
So should developers and builders be taking their foot off the gas with regards preparing for energy-efficient new homes?
What did the Part L consultation say about transitional arrangements?
Firstly, let’s remember what transitional arrangements are for. When a building regulation is updated, transitional arrangements set out when a construction site should use the latest version, and when previous guidance continues to apply.
Typically, the previous regulations will continue to apply to a site providing a building notice, initial notice or full plans deposit has been submitted to building control and work has started on site before the new regulation goes live.
Quoting the Part L consultation, the Government said: “We want to encourage quicker building out on developments to ensure all benefit from the changes.”
As well as potentially shortening the transitional arrangements period, the Part L consultation sought views on applying regulation changes to individual buildings, rather than on a site by site basis.
In other words, even if you completed 50 homes of your 100-home site within the transitional period, the remaining 50 homes would have to be built to the new standard. This could mean housebuilders having to update home specification midway through the construction of a site.
And as you’ll see when we explore the most likely replacement options for gas boilers, that could mean a very significant change in construction.
What will be the alternatives to gas boilers?
The most likely substitute for the majority of home builders will be air source heat pumps (ASHP), which absorb heat from the air outside via a unit resembling an air conditioning fan to heat water in the home.
Currently, ASHPs are typically two- to three- times the cost of conventional gas systems, yet about half the cost of ground source heat pumps (GSHP), which take energy from the ground from a pipework array laid horizontally or from a vertical borehole.
Both systems come with a significant caveat – they are more efficient at lower temperatures than traditional gas boilers provide for. The days of radiators being hot to the touch will be gone. To make the most of these systems, homes may need larger radiator panels or underfloor heating. It is a given that they need to be well insulated, ideally with triple-glazed windows.
One other point to note is that developers will need to once again provide space for a hot water tank – GSHP and ASHP systems typically don’t operate in the same way as gas combi boilers.
Other alternatives include biomass and hydrogen. Biomass boilers need a bigger space than gas boilers. Another obvious drawback is that the homeowner will need to source a constant supply of fuel, making it incumbent on the developer to provide a fuel storage space.
The Government is particularly keen on hydrogen, with a plan to produce five gigawatts of the fuel by 2030. While hydrogen boilers would be very similar to existing gas boilers in terms of installation and operation, the issue is supplying hydrogen to homes.
Only in August this year did National Grid announce a £10m trial project to test if hydrogen can heat UK homes, demonstrating that it is very early days in terms of any widescale adoption of this technology.
So is this the end of the domestic gas boiler? Not quite, as this article explained.
District or heat networks
Moving to new heat technologies could warrant consideration of district or heat networks, where a single installation is used to distribute heat and power to multiple units. Most existing networks use gas-powered Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems and tend to be found in high density commercial and residential developments.
By the end of 2019 there were 117 heat network projects at funding/tender stage in England and Wales, according to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, through its Heat Networks Delivery Unit. The unit provides grant funding and guidance to local authorities in England and Wales for heat network project development.
The Government’s 10-point plan did not mention heat networks specifically and so it remains to be seen whether gas could still be used for such installations, or if any funding might become available for private developers of larger schemes.
Electric car charging
Car charging points in Tolent's Parkway development in Newcastle
The ban on the sale of new cars and vans wholly powered by petrol and diesel from 2030 in the UK made most of the headlines.
Critics were quick to point out a lack of car-charging infrastructure and so it is almost certain that new home developers will come under increasing pressure to provide home car charging points where a driveway or garage exists as part of the home.
Please Note: Every care was taken to ensure the information in this article was correct at the time of publication. Any written guidance provided does not replace the reader’s professional judgement and any construction project should comply with the relevant Building Regulations or applicable technical standards. However, for the most up to date LABC Warranty technical guidance please refer to your Risk Management Surveyor and the latest version of the LABC Warranty technical manual.