Opinion: Why we need a new certification system to make sure new homes will last for generations to come

Gwyn Roberts
There will be more trees in the sky than on the ground in the future

Plans set out by the government to build one million new homes by 2020 has instigated a mad rush to push through as many developments as possible in the coming years.

It is vital that we learn from past mistakes of quick-fire developments, built in a hurry that are now obsolete or no longer fit for purpose. But how do we ensure that these new developments are as ‘high-quality’ and ‘sustainable’ as they promise?

First and foremost, we need to ensure that the homes built now not only provide quality homes to live in, but are built to last for generations.

High-quality, well-thought-out sustainable developments can have multiple benefits to existing and new local communities. Often they are the catalyst that transform an area from run-down to vibrant places that people want to live.

So how do we measure quality when it comes to property development? Is it just how solid the taps, kitchen units and bathroom feel? Perhaps how smooth the floor finish is? Or is there more to quality than just the finish? New guidelines must be set to outline the differing levels of finish.

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Does the paint on the walls make the room lighter? Thus meaning the need for lighting is reduced. Are the walls well insulated? Meaning that the heating can be used less often. Could solar panels be used more effectively? Making the entire development or property self-sustainable.

A true quality mark should also relate to the fundamental structure of the building as well, particularly with a changing climate, which is bringing heavier rains, stronger winds and periods of extreme heat. Good materials need to be put together properly by a skilled workforce to create robust attractive homes.

All of these factors are important to the consumer, with recent research revealing that over 60 per cent of purchasers actively seeking a new home with high-quality sustainable features.

It’s not as simple to put the responsibility at the feet of the government to ensure every home is built to the best of its capabilities. The minimum requirements are set in planning and housebuilders either meet them or go the extra step and ensure that what they are building will improve not only its surroundings but purchasers’ quality of life.

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That is why an independent third party certification, setting out vital sustainability criteria, can help guide developers on the best building practices. This would give housebuilders a mark to aspire to, whilst providing trust to the consumer that their new home is future-proof.

To meet this need we at the Building Research Establishment (BRE) have created the Home Quality Mark (HQM), which enables developers to differentiate their development, showing that they have gone above and beyond minimum standards.

Contrary to popular belief, I believe a certification system would not stifle housing development, but help improve it. So we created a mark that provides a rating on the overall level of quality, the running costs (energy, maintenance, insurance etc.) the impact upon health and wellbeing (air quality, space, daylight, sound insulation) and environmental impact (CO2, air pollution, material impact).

The use of better quality materials coupled with the best building techniques would lead to a slicker build process, helping reduce the number of issues and mistakes that can slow the construction process. In turn this would see homes built quicker to a better quality, ensuring that the homes we need today will still be making a positive impact in the future.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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