New Homes not Performing as Designed

Friday, December 4, 2015

Hampshire based housing association, First Wessex, collaborated with Innovate UK and the Zero Carbon Hub last week, to host a building performance conference at the University of Portsmouth. The event ‘Building Better Buildings’ focussed on improving the quality, comfort and energy efficiency performance of new build homes.

In recent years significant evidence reveals that new homes, once occupied, invariably do not perform as well as designed, with occupant comfort and energy efficiency suffering as a result. The difference between anticipated and actual performance is known as the ‘performance gap’.

Using case studies from Innovate UK’s cutting edge research projects, the conference focused on understanding the causes and solutions to this Performance Gap, with findings presented to a diverse  audience of professionals and academics with an interest in housing quality. Two of the case studies were supported by and featured new homes recently built by First Wessex.

Chaired by Hazel Warwick, Asset Management Director and Deputy Chief Executive at First Wessex, the conference brought together an array of expert speakers from across the housing industry including Dr Tim Sharpe from Glasgow School of Art, and Mich Swainson from the Building Research Establishment. Jane Briginshaw, Head of Design and Sustainability at the Homes and Communities Agency, who delivered the keynote presentation said: "Our aim is to provide the quality that the residents need and want:  quality can be created in many ways. It is anything that creates value, yes, through energy efficiency and keeping bills affordable but also through whole life construction quality and place-making.”


First Wessex has been proactively investing time, effort and research into progressively improving the quality of its new homes. Hazel Warwick said: “Too many new homes built in the country are falling short of performing as well as they should once they are occupied. With Government acknowledging the urgent need to build hundreds of thousands of new homes in the coming years, it is essential that quality improves to avoid unexpected expenditure on maintenance and health problems in the future. It is only right that we all get the housing quality we are paying for”.       


In 2007 Government introduced a policy for all new homes to be constructed to meet a zero carbon standard from 2016. The Zero Carbon Hub was established shortly after to take operational responsibility for achieving this target.  Working with Government and Industry, the Hub have focused on raising build standards and reducing risks associated with implementing the zero carbon homes policy. The introduction of the policy next year has been placed on hold, which while disappointing from an environmental perspective; it does at least give the housebuilding sector the opportunity to narrow the gap in performance.


Rob Pannell, Managing Director from the Zero Carbon Hub said: "The Government recognises that there is a significant performance gap between the design intent and that of the building when it is constructed and through the effort of First Wessex we are able to better understand how to tackle the issue. First Wessex continues to research a number of its buildings in the Portsmouth and Gosport area to further address the problem both through improved design and improved construction quality on site. It is only through events such as these that we can pass on the valuable learnings”.

The Hub’s ambition from 2020 is to be able to demonstrate that at least 90% of all homes newly built meet or perform better than the designed energy performance. The European Union will require that all new homes built from the end of 2020 are classed as nearly zero energy buildings in the fight against global warming and climate change.

Paul Ciniglio, Sustainability and Asset Strategist at First Wessex said: “Common problems that the house building sector at large need to improve on include balancing the correct installation of thermal insulation and reducing unwanted air leakage with ensuring heating and mechanical ventilation systems are adequately designed, installed, commissioned and maintained. If this interlinked strategy is neglected, indoor air quality will be compromised and the potential for homes to overheat in summer, something that is becoming increasingly commonplace, will continue to increase. It is essential that homes are comfortable to live in all year round”.   

First Wessex is currently taking the learning from their involvement in the Building Performance Evaluation programme to update their design brief for new housing. Paul continues, “We intend to share the key revisions we make to our new build requirements as these will benefit the quality of housing more widely, something in everyone’s interest”.