Futureproofing England’s homes: how can we make our homes more sustainable and resilient to climate change?

We can no longer deny that reduction in the availability of water due to climate change will become an increasingly pressing issue in the coming decades. A new collaborative report released by Policy Connect and Westminster Sustainable Business Forum – which includes research carried out by the Geography Department at Durham University – exposes and highlights the fact that many homes are simply unequipped to deal with the conditions we could be facing in the next decade.

England has seen an increase in flooding over recent winters, with coastal areas and swathes of the North West being hit worst by flash flooding events. Report contributor Professor Louise Bracken – also Deputy Vice-Provost and member of the Geography department at Durham University – stated that: “It is crucial that we take action to mitigate flooding and reduce our water consumption before our daily lives become more severely impacted by water related risks.”

Indeed, the Bricks and Water report highlights the fact that if we do not make an effort to live more sustainably and create homes that can cope with reduced availability of water and increased flooding, the UK could be out of water by as early as 2050. This is a shocking statistic which would look more at home on a report on the state of water scarcity in North Africa; however, the fact that those of us living in the UK could be facing similar conditions reinforces the urgency taking action against the climate crisis.

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement of a ‘New Deal’ which aims to create a better society in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, including a £12 million budget for building more affordable homes, it is more important than ever that reports such as this are used as a blueprint for more sustainable housing which will protect future inhabitants not only from projected water scarcity but also increased flooding.

Westminster Sustainable Business Forum have set the targets below to create a general framework which ensures sustainability and resilience in properties:

  1. Set a national consumption target for water use.
  2. Introduce a mandatory water label for water using products.
  3. Ensure wider uptake of property flood resilience measures.
  4. Make the use of SuDS mandatory for all new development.
  5. Measure and improve the ‘water performance’ of new and existing homes.

With temperatures continuing to rise exponentially – temperatures recorded between 2009 and 2018 were 0.3°C warmer than those of the previous 30 years – the pressure placed upon the national water supply will inevitably augment too. The National Audit Office reported that daily water availability is set to be reduced by 600 million litres of water per day by 2045 in England. However, with population increase, water demand is growing and has done so yearly since 2014/15. Therefore, the National Infrastructure Commission has predicted a 1 in 4 chance of severe drought before 2050, demonstrating just how dire the situation could become.

Currently, the national average amount of water used per person per day is 143 litres (lpppd), an unacceptably high amount of water given this could be reduced to less than 90 lpppd by 2050 – if the correct measures are implemented. Existing homes need to be more resilient to projected water shortages, whilst new builds will need to be constructed in accordance with new guidelines such as those set out in the Bricks and Water report. One suggestion – such as water labelling – could save consumers as much as £26 billion in the next 25 years by lowering the price of water and energy bills whilst saving large volumes of water. Smart metres should also be installed to reduce water wastage – particularly as this incentivises both customers and companies to report and fix any leaks, thereby further reducing unnecessary depletion. Prioritising the introduction of smart metres and implementing Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS), as well as assessing the resilience of individual properties are all measures which should be taken to gauge property sustainability.

Water shortage is not the only issue housing developers are faced with. With winters becoming milder and wetter, flooding across the UK is becoming frequently pervasive, an issue worsened by an increase in both population and housing – often built within areas deemed to be at highest risk of flooding. Flood defences are expensive, and though the government announced that they would invest £5.2 billion across 6 years in flood and coastal defence systems, this will not be enough to protect everyone – meaning certain areas will have to be prioritised over others.  New builds should therefore be constructed according to the property flood resilience code of practice, laid out below. This is especially important as many homeowners are unaware that their properties are even situated in flood zones, and therefore at higher risk of not having any measures in place to protect themselves – both physically and financially.

Property Flood Resilience Code of Practice:

  1. Hazard assessment – completion of a Flood Risk Assessment (FRA), proportionate to level of risk and size of the property.
  2. Property survey – determination of the construction type of the property, its current level of flood resilience, ground conditions and options for drying and decontamination.
  3. Options development – identification and consideration of the most appropriate options to restrict water entry and to make the building more recoverable.
  4. Construction – completion by a qualified person and undertaken to deliver the benefits identified within the options development standard.
  5. Commissioning and handover – demonstration that the measures installed will operate efficiently and as designed. Preparation of a handover pack to allow the nominated person to deploy the system.
  6. Operation and maintenance – justification that the measures installed remain suitable and are maintained appropriately so they can be deployed efficiently following a flood event.

The report covers sustainable drainage and particularly the implementation of SuDS in further detail in its third chapter. Urban landscapes with their artificial surfaces increase the chance of runoff entering drainage systems before it has permeated the ground, leading to a greater likelihood of flooding. SuDS slow, store and recycle rainfall to ensure a more natural method of flood management. The most developed models are also able to improve the quality of the water, therefore enhancing biodiversity and regenerating green spaces within urban areas.

The final chapter of the report focuses on measuring the performance and improving the resilience of existing homes. Criteria for measuring water performance were revised in April 2020, creating five key factors which must be faced when doing so. These were: brevity (measures must be understandable), clarity (the consumer must understand the measures), affordability, value (there must be financial saving) and trust. Property surveys must also be undertaken, with any changes made to the resilience of the property remaining in place for the next 10 years.

If these measures are implemented and adhered to, it could be possible to protect much of the population from the worst effects of climate change. However, if the advice that has been compiled in this report is ignored, we could find ourselves facing both water scarcity and unprecedented flooding in the next 30 years.


Image by Defence Images on Flickr

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