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Code for Sustainable Homes

ABOVE: Eco homes don’t need to break the bank — as Nicky and Robin van der Bij proved when they designed and built their stunning coastal cottage for just £115,000. Even better, it costs just £270 a year to heat.

Recent research carried out by English Partnerships (englishpartnerships.co.uk) suggests that hitting the new building standard for UK homes – the Code for Sustainable Homes Level 3 (CSH 3) – will cost 12-15% more than meeting the current Building Regulations requirements. This research assumes an ‘average’ 120m² UK home with three bedrooms, but is not specific on where the money will be spent.

How CSH Works

The CSH will assess the drawings and specifications for the planned house and award points (out of a total of 100 points, based on a percentage system) in nine design categories: Level 1 requires 36 points; Level 2 – 48 points; Level 3 – 57; Level 4 – 68; Level 5 – 84; and Level 6 – 90. The categories are:

  1. Energy and CO2 Emissions
  2. Water
  3. Materials
  4. Surface Water Run-off
  5. Waste
  6. Pollution
  7. Health and Well-being
  8. Management
  9. Ecology

These nine categories break down into two groups: ‘Mandatory’, and what can be called ‘Other’. The Mandatory elements are Energy and Water. Within the Other group is a subgroup comprising Surface Water Run-off, Waste, and Materials, where minimum standards must still be met.

How to Work the CSH

Bear in mind that the CSH assessment is carried out at the design stage, prior to construction. And it is design that is the key.

Also consider that the Mandatory elements account for only 10.3 points. The other 46.7 points come from the Other group. And there are some fairly soft targets in that group. A few examples include:

  • Home User Guide – a folder containing manuals for all the appliances and equipment (dishwasher, washing machine, central heating, etc.). Possible 3.3 points.
  • Clothes-drying space – needs to be no more than fixtures for a clothes line (not the line itself). Possible 1.2 points.
  • Secure cycle store – a four bedroom home will need space for four bikes. This can be a lockable shed or simply a couple of bike racks to which the bikes can be chained. Possible 2.4 points.
  • Home office – this is the ‘provision of space that can be set up as a home office’ and amounts to space for one person with a telephone point and a double power socket. The space can actually be used for anything you like. Possible 1.2 points.
  • White goods – setting out in the specification that white goods will be A+ rated. Possible 2.4 points.

It is possible to gain half the needed 46.7 points with little impact — simply by making those small, cheap changes to the design and correctly labelling things to bring them to the CSH assessor’s attention.

The Mandatory Elements

Water consumption (internal and external) needs to be limited to 105 litres per person per day. The way this is calculated is fairly complex but the ‘standard’ UK house uses around 150 litres per person per day — so it’s about a 30% reduction.

There are two ways to achieve this: make provision for a greywater recycling system (at a cost of around £2,000) which will effectively achieve the target on its own. Alternatively you need to think about things like aerated taps and reduced-flow showers.

The Energy requirement is to achieve a 25% improvement on Building Regulations 2008 Part L standard and there are a few ways to do it. A construction system like SIPs, for instance, that is highly insulated and relatively airtight, with a solar thermal system on the roof, will achieve it by default. Other construction systems (brick and block for instance) will need more thought as to the heating and hot-water systems. A SEDBUK (sedbuk.com) A-rated boiler or a heat pump will be essential but insulation levels will still need to be upgraded. It is in this area where the majority of the extra cost will be used.

The Other Minimum Requirements

The requirement is to hit a minimum standard for surface water run-off, site waste management and sustainable materials.

There are two options for dealing with surface water run-off: a rainwater harvesting system (at a cost of around £3,500) makes the problem go away (and also helps achieve the 105 litres per person requirement), or you need to think about water-permeable hard surfaces like drives and patios and perhaps a rainwater soakaway.

Site waste management can be tricky as you are reliant on your contractors to comply. An organisation called WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme; wrap.org.uk) will provide a free scheme template to help you deliver best practice and hit the target.

Achieving CSH 3 means using materials with at least a D-rating from the BRE Green Guide (bre.co.uk) on at least three of the key elements of the build (walls, roof, floor, windows and doors, etc.). The majority of ratings in the guide are A, some A+. It is really only concrete that gives a problem. Masonry cavity walls and timber frame are both A-rated.

The Assessment Process

Assessment is a bureaucratic process and the more paperwork you provide, the better. Drawings, site plans, specifications, manuals, instruction books, invoices, experts’ reports, anything and everything relating to the construction and use of the home needs to be assembled in an orderly fashion and delivered to the assessor. The devil is, as usual, in the detail.

Interestingly, research carried out in 2007 by the Richard Hodkinson Consultancy shows that PassivHaus (the German standard generally accepted as the most energy-efficient construction system) would not meet CSH 3. The CSH assessment uses the Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) test to calculate energy performance, and for many years there have been questions over the efficacy of the SAP test, especially with more thermally efficient buildings.

If you can’t afford to increase your build cost by 15% then time spent studying the Code, and perhaps a knowledgeable architect, can still get you there. Good luck.

Ways to maximise your CSH points

Maximise your points:

  • Adding storage for four bicycles will earn you 2.4 points; you will earn 1.2 for storage for two bikes in a four bedroom house
  • Including provisions for an office – you don’t need to have furniture fitted, just a phone socket and double power point – can earn you 1.2 points
  • Producing a simple folder that contains manuals for all the appliances and equipment in your home (e.g. white goods, heating) is an easy route to earning an extra 3.3 points
  • Greywater recycling is a simple way to reduce your water usage, helping to achieve the CSH 3 required target of 105 litres per person per day

Credits and Points - Why the Confusion?

There are a possible 100 points (which is based on a percentage system) that can be gained overall, but confusingly there are also a maximum of 103 credits to be won. The official Code Level rating is worked out in points, but to achieve this score, everything must initially be worked out in credits before being converted to points. However, bafflingly, some credits earn more percentage points than others, with Water achieving the highest number of points per credit (1.5); and Materials the lowest (0.3). So while there are 24 Materials credits to be gained, you can only make 7.2 points; and while there are only 6 Water credits to be gained, these make up 9 points.

Aiming Higher - How to Achieve Levels 4, 5 & 6

Code Level 3 aims for a 25% (5.8 points) ‘dwelling emissions’ improvement on Building Regulations, but Level 4 aims for 44% (9.4 points), while Levels 5 and 6 aim for 100% (16.4 points) and zero carbon (17.6 points). But a further 18.8 points can be earned in the Energy category by other measures including incorporating 75% energy-efficient lighting, a drying space, energy-labelled white goods, a home office and cycle storage. With regard to water consumption, Levels 5 and 6 require a maximum usage of 80 litres per person per day (7.5 points) compared to Levels 3 and 4 requiring 105 (4.5 points). Although the Energy and Water sections of the Code have Mandatory levels for achieving a higher rating, the rest can be earned over of a variety of categories; for example, there are a maximum of 14 points to be easily earned in the ‘Health and Well-being’ category. See communities.gov.uk for a full guide of where points can be earned. Level 6 is likely to be incorporated into the new national Building Regulations in England and Wales by 2016.

Building Regulations vs CSH3

The Energy Saving Trust has devised a package of scenarios for homebuilders to save 25% in energy and CO² reductions against Building Regulations. The guidelines it suggests for a typical 104m² detached house are as follows.

  Building regulations CSH3
Roof U-value* 0.25 0.13
Walls U-value 0.30 0.25
Exposed floors U-value 0.25 0.20
Windows U-value 2.10 1.20
Doors U-value 2.20 1.00
Y-value* 0.08 0.04
Airtightness m³/(hr.m²) 7.0 3.0
Mechanical ventilation Extractor fans MVHR 85% efficiency
Low-energy lighting 30% 75%
CO² DER (Dwelling Emission Rate) 23.22 17.59

Requirements can very depending on heating type.

*A U-value measures how well a building component keeps heat inside a building, while the Y-value is the heat loss factor for thermal bridging within the dwelling. The lower each value the better.

Update: Whilst most LAs currently only insist on the achievement of Code Level 3, some are now asking for Code Level 4 - for information on how to achieve level 4 click here.

4 Comments

We are about to embark on our own Self-Build imminently - plans pretty much ready to go in. What I am curious about is now that CSH Level 3 has become a mandatory requirement as part of the Planing / Building Regs approval, where does this assessment fit into the whole process? Also, does anybody have any experience in dealing with it since its introduction? I know it has only very recently become compulsory and information and experience of it both seem very limited for prospective builders. For example, who assesses and certifies the level of CSH obtained in a build? How is the level assessed - inspections or detailed drawings (we were not intending producing Building Regs drawings, instead going down the Building Control Inspection route) or other methods? What are the likely costs of such an assessment? Any information or advice would be greatly appreciated!
Following the introduction of the Code, a number of additional publications have been released to aid its integration to the development of sustainable building practises and specifications to help meet the Code’s requirements by offering practical solutions, look out for level 3 of the code for sustainable homes later this year.
I think the description and process mentioned is very informative.

This post is an extract from a blog on the Code for Sustainable homes by Liam Newton, a Sustainability Consultant and a licensed assessor for the code for sustainable homes.

"For self builders the world of the code for sustainable homes (the code as it is often known) may be a nightmare. If you are unfortunate enough to be building a home within the reaches of a planning authority whose requirement it is that you meet a certain level of the code, level three in Wales for example, then the added expense of getting an assessment done can hit the purse hard. There are many homes being built that are capable of achieving excellent results if assessed against the code for sustainable homes but people are put off by the cost of having an assessment done.

Most assessors for the code for sustainable homes are geared up for large developments of social housing being built by housing associations. Because the assessors are all after these large contracts their prices for assessing against the code for sustainable homes reflects this. They usually calculate their prices on the designs of the buildings. For example say there was a development of 37 houses that needs assessing against the code for sustainable homes and there were four different house designs on the development. The assessors will have a set price for the assessment of the first house of a particular design, between £1500 and £2500, and will then have a much smaller price for each additional house of the same design to be assessed, between maybe £200 and £300. Done in this way it means that the assessors will get, on average, roughly £450 per dwelling assessed. This is where the problems begin for the single dwelling development, because they have only one dwelling to be assessed, the assessors will charge them for the assessment of one house design which is up to five times the amount it would cost per dwelling for a larger development.

The next big cost is the charges added on by the licensing body for issuing the certificates with the dwellings code star rating displayed on them. There are two main licensing bodies and they are BRE and STROMA. BRE charge £37 per dwelling and STROMA charge £35 per dwelling. Both however have a minimum charge per development for the issuing of the certificates. STROMA’s fees are £145 whereas BRE charge a much greater fee of £370. Having said this BRE do seem to carry more kudos when it comes down to it.

To keep the cost of assessing against the code down get a number of quotes and choose an assessor who will be more flexible and who will give a reasonable price for the assessment of the dwelling. Try to familiarise yourself with the code and understand what evidence you will need to provide to the code assessor to make the assessment process run more smoothly. Choose your optional elements of the code wisely and try to avoid any that will force you to have to shell out more money for the advice of another expert."

Liam Newton is a Sustainability Consultant and a licensed assessor for the code for sustainable homes. His blog aims to help self builders get to grips with the code for sustainable homes.

Mr Newton, who has a degree in construction management, has worked in construction for over six years and has a particular interest in the use of natural, reclaimed and recycled materials in the construction process. Liam also runs workshops for building your own renewable energy generating technologies.