HM Insights

The sustainable future of housing in Scotland

Scotland's housing providers have a significant part to play in helping Scotland achieve its net zero emissions commitments, but a challenge lies ahead as they strive to meet the various targets that the Scottish Government has set for energy efficient housing.

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Energy efficiency in existing stock

A primary goal for housing providers is to maximise the energy efficiency of existing housing stock in order to comply with the Energy Efficiency Standard for Social Housing (EESSH), which replaced element 35 of the Scottish Housing Quality Standard (SHQS) with effect from January 2021.

EESSH1

The EESSH was first introduced in 2014 and set its first milestone for social landlords to meet by 31 December 2020. By the end of 2020, social landlords were obliged to ensure that all applicable social housing achieved the relevant minimum energy efficiency ratings set out in EESSH1 - in general, a C or D energy efficiency rating based on the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) scale.

The EESSH is not prescriptive as to how the overall energy efficiency target is to be achieved, so a wide range of measures have been applied to properties to get them to the EESSH1 standard. Among the most common are: condensing boilers, double/secondary glazing, heating controls, storage heaters (or switching to more efficient storage heaters), insulation, compact fluorescent lighting, waste water heat recovery and thermostatic radiator valves.

There is no complete data available yet to confirm how housing providers performed against this EESSH1 milestone, but the Scottish Housing Regulator previously reported that social landlords were making encouraging progress and 85% of social rented homes had already met the 2020 milestone ahead of the 31 December deadline.

EESSH2

All eyes are now on the next target - the EESSH2 milestone set for December 2032, which provides that:

All social housing meets, or can be treated as meeting, EPC Band B (Energy Efficiency rating), or is as energy efficient as practically possible, by the end of December 2032 and within the limits of cost, technology and necessary consent.

As an intermediate step on the path to EESSH2, no social housing with an energy rating below EPC Band D is to be re-let from April 2025, although this is subject to some temporary specified exemptions such as sitting tenants, social objections, new technology, legal problems or demolition or disposal. This should be a significant driver for housing providers to avoid being left with uninhabitable properties.

A formal review of EESSH2 is currently scheduled for 2025 but it has been suggested that this should take place sooner to allow better alignment with the Local Heat and Energy Efficiency Strategies, expected to be in place by 2023, and to reflect potential reforms to Energy Performance Certificates.

Implementation of the EESSH is a crucial part of the Energy Efficient Scotland vision for homes that are warmer, greener and more efficient, and the housing sector is rising to this challenge.

Eco credentials of new builds

To be sustainable, the housing sector also needs to keep building. The need for top eco credentials in new build housing is increasingly clear and standards such as Passivhaus - a voluntary standard for energy efficiency in a building - are becoming more widely adopted for homes and new buildings. But this is not yet the norm and the Scottish Government has been looking at ways to encourage even more energy efficiency in new buildings.

Heat strategies

One example is the draft Heat in Buildings strategy, which updates both the Energy Efficient Scotland Route Map and the Heat Policy Statement. As part of this new approach, the New Build Heat Strategy (currently under consultation) will require all new homes consented from 2024 to use zero direct emissions heating, such as individual electric heat pumps and connection to heat networks, or electric systems such as storage heaters or systems that that use hydrogen. New homes will also require high levels of fabric energy efficiency to reduce overall heat demand so that they do not need to be retrofitted in the future. The strategy recognises that there is a tension between pursuing climate objectives and the Scottish Government's commitment to ending fuel poverty, as zero emissions heating systems can be costly to install and may be more expensive to run than high emissions alternatives.

Use of technology in energy efficienc

Beyond heating, other innovative measures can be incorporated into new buildings to enhance their energy efficiency. One Scottish local authority has created a pair of ‘Sustainable Demonstrator Homes’ to showcase the latest design and technology that is available to deliver the highest ecological ambitions.

These model houses feature an array of technologically advanced systems for ventilation, lighting, waste water heat recovery and electric vehicle charging points, as well as more familiar methods such as solar panels, triple glazing and a rainwater harvesting system. The combination of these features is designed to help reduce carbon emissions but also to reduce running costs, meaning residents can make significant savings on their bills.

Future housing standards

There is no doubt about the direction of travel for the housing sector. Sustainability is already high on the agenda and it will feature even more prominently as new legal standards are set to maximise the energy efficiency of Scotland's homes and buildings in line with overall net zero targets.

Ideally, homes of the future will be warm and "smart" and support residents to live a low carbon lifestyle. Ideally, they will also incorporate features to make the most of natural resources such as solar gain and rainwater to reduce the overall detrimental impact on the planet.

This ideal may seem like a long way off when considering the momentous task and the financial implications of upgrading Scotland's historic housing stock, but it is nonetheless an ideal that housing providers must keep in mind, for buildings both new and old.

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