We need millions of homes but not "crap" ones

Architect and TV presenter George Clarke explain why he thinks we simply have to change the way we build homes here in the UK with his call for us “to stop building crap homes”.

He was speaking at the ‘Transforming the Housing Technology Mindset’ conference hosted by Mitsubishi Electric, which saw industry experts argue for a revolution in the housebuilding sector.

Mr Clarke called for a change in building regulations so that “every single new build house comes with a heat pump as standard and everyone has triple glazing, as standard.”

With housing charity Shelter also recently highlighting how desperate we are for three million new social homes over the next 20 years, his call was very timely.

Still building like the Romans

Mr Clarke entertained the packed room with a brief history of why he is so passionate about the need for good quality homes and he railed against the traditional methods used to build the vast majority of UK homes.

“In essence, we’re still building like the Romans with construction methods that have fundamentally remained the same for centuries,” he said. “When you compare how fast other sectors have transformed over the past two decades, it is shocking to see how little has changed. Unfortunately, the housing technology market has made very little progress since 1997. We need systematic change at a global, national, local and personal level to get to a standard they should be. It’s time for the housing revolution.”

Renewable technologies in quality new homes

Calling for innovative off-site construction that could deliver more quality homes with less embedded carbon at a faster rate, Mr Clarke also explained how these homes would be ideal for the use of renewable technologies.

He was joined on the panel by Nick Whitehouse, the founder of Buildoffsite, along with Mitsubishi Electric’s own experts, who gave presentations to the attending audience made up of housebuilders, architects, housing associations and specifiers.

Mr Whitehouse spoke about the background to Buildoffsite and focused on the high quality and speed that can be achieved with the ‘factory’ form of modular construction.

This was echoed by George Clarke who questioned why we still build houses ‘out in the field’ when modern methods of construction could see a dramatic increase in the quality and efficiency of new homes.

“You don’t build a car outdoors in a field in the pouring rain and you don’t plaster the inside of it and render the outside of it,” he explained.

Head of Sustainability at Mitsubishi Electric, Martin Fahey, spoke about how the 'greening' of the national grid makes the case for renewable heat pumps much, much stronger. “About a third of all UK carbon emissions comes from our demand for heat and produces about half of all greenhouse gases,” he said.

“Tackling the way we heat homes and ensuring that they are as efficient as possible right from the start offers a huge opportunity if we are to ever cut carbon emissions, it’s also an area that can change quickly if we simply apply the technology and the skills that already exist.”

Other presentations focused on the developments in UK production of heat pumps over the last decade and the practicalities of living with a heat pump, whether in a retro-fit situation or a new-build home.

The event was well received by the attendees who took the overriding message that quality and energy efficiency need to be right at the heart of our homes, whether new or old.

Kevin Todd

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