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NOT the Code for Sustainable Homes

20 July 2016

Chris Coxon EurocellThe new Home Quality Mark recognises that householders are interested in more than just sustainability – and that makes sense for those building it, too, says Eurocell’s Head of Marketing Chris Coxon.

In July, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment published a report on its inquiry into the quality of workmanship and new-build housing. In summary the report, More Homes, Fewer Complaints, says that housebuilders could do a lot better and that the Government should set up a New Homes Ombudsman to make sure that they do.

home-quality-mark-logoOne possible solution to the problem is the BRE’s new Home Quality Mark (HQM) which the report mentions as a “promising development for driving up standards in housebuilding”. Seen as the successor to the now defunct Code for Sustainable Homes, HQM actually looks at a much wider range of issues: what are transport links like, how much will it cost to maintain, how is information about your new home being given to you?

It makes good sense to look at ‘quality’ in the round, considering environmental credentials alongside practicality and comfort. Taking windows as an example, a prospective buyer needs to know that they will give the right amount of light for wellbeing, how much maintenance will they require, how long will they last, and whether they are sufficiently secure – as well as what their carbon footprint is. Suppliers can aid builders here by providing all the required information upfront.

Code no more

BRE launched the HQM back in March 2015, partially to fill the void left by the abolition of the Code for Sustainable Homes. The Code was one of several victims of the Housing Standards Review which said that there was too much bureaucracy and everything should be made simpler and put into one place.

While the new Parts M and G of the Building Regulations on access and water respectively appeared, along with a national space standard, some aspects covered in the Code, as well as in the also-abandoned Secure by Design were somewhat neglected. HQM considers these, alongside many other aspects, assessing and scoring new homes under 35 issues.

The issues fall under three headings: Our Surrounds which looks at transport, outdoors and safety and resilience; My Home which considers comfort, energy costs and materials; and Knowledge Sharing which covers construction, after care and smart home issues. Unlike the Code, only one of these, relating to warranties, is mandatory.

For the consumer, the information is translated into a scorecard: an overall rating out of five stars and then bandings for the three specific areas of living cost, health and wellbeing and environmental footprint.

What next?

Following an industry consultation which ended in September, the standard is now in what BRE calls Beta form – which means that changes will be made to it as feedback comes in. Assessors from a variety of firms around the country have already been signed up and trained and references to it are starting to appear in local authorities’ planning-related documents and some investment portfolios are also beginning to write it in.

BRE tells us that 2,000 homes have been registered to the scheme and the first few are going through the certification process now. The reason why developers want to use the code varies: for some it’s to emphasise the value of their high-end homes; for others it’s a corporate decision driven by shareholders; smaller housebuilders may find it easier to secure loans with HQM in place; and some simply want to try it out.

The real difference between HQM and the Code is that it tries to look at sustainability and other issues that contribute to the quality of a home from the householder’s perspective, rather than from an environmental specialist’s point of view. That can only be a good thing.

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