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Water performance in our future homes has never been more important

The past year has seen dramatic increases in the amount of water we’re all using, due to the impacts of Covid-19 and more people working from home. This, coupled with record rainfall and local flooding events, shows that the need for high water performance in our future homes has never been more important. 

Water UK is among several organisations that have been working with the Future Homes Task Force (FHTF) to map out the approach to delivering the Government’s Future Homes Standard.   

The Future Homes Standard is a set of standards that will complement the Building Regulations to ensure new homes built from 2025 will produce 75-80 per cent less carbon emissions than homes delivered under current regulations. 

The task force, convened by the Home Builders Federation, brings together representatives from across all the sectors that shape new homes, including the Government, housebuilders, utility providers, material suppliers and environmental groups. The group has been looking at all aspects of the housebuilding process and the performance of houses once they’re built. Water UK has been providing substantial input about water consumption and surface water drainage, in particular. 

Water consumption is currently governed by Part G of the Building Regulations. These offer either a ‘litres per person’ calculation approach or a ‘fittings’ approach, where each device or appliance in the home has a maximum volume or flow-rate.  While the ‘litres per person per day’ metric is the most commonly used method, it has its flaws and doesn’t guarantee that our new homes are actually water efficient.  

We’re pleased to see that the FHTF has come down firmly in support of a fittings-based approach and see this as a move in the right direction, with huge potential to simplify the task of making new housing water efficient. 

As a sector, we hope this initial step will be reinforced by a government scheme for the mandatory efficiency labelling of water-using devices in the home. This would be similar to schemes that apply to domestic electrical appliances, for example, where specific labels showing the energy efficiency of an appliance are a legal requirement. Such a scheme could even replace the fittings-based approach entirely by requiring developers to only install top performing water efficiency devices. 

The FHTF has also endorsed the water sector’s support for multi-functional sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) as the default option for dealing with surface water, diverting it away from overloaded sewers.   

Water UK has been working to promote the use of SuDS for many years and has revolutionised the sector’s approach to specifying and adopting suitable SuDS systems for new developments, which has regulatory backing through Ofwat’s Code for Adoption Agreements.   

We’re pleased that the FHTF has endorsed this approach and we’re now looking to the Government to play its part by ensuring that water and sewerage legislation supports the goal of diverting surface water away from sewers. This could be done by limiting the current absolute right for developers to connect surface water drainage to the sewerage system. It could also be done by reducing opportunities for landowners to rely on their legal rights and restricting the discharge of surface water to water bodies such as canals.   

The Government’s recent announcement that it is considering making it law for new developments to contain SuDS that meet ministerial standards is a helpful step towards achieving that goal. 

A new Future Homes Delivery Hub has been tasked with implementing the FHTF’s recommendations and we will continue to play our part working closely with the hub over the coming years.