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Will the builders catch up with eco-housing demand?

9th August 2007 | back to article listings BACK    print this article PRINT

Eco-houses are becoming increasingly popular, or so it seems. Every day the news focuses on a new housing development with energy-saving insulation, wind turbines, solar panels on the roof or an inbuilt water recycling system. The government, while seeking to rapidly increase the number of homes built, is also looking to do so in ever greener ways, with the construction industry charged with reaching the holy grail of making every new home carbon neutral by 2016.

As well as Gordon Brown announcing more grant aid to get homes insulated while he was still chancellor, the Department of the Environment was recently reported by the Independent to be working with the housing minister Yvette Cooper on the possible inclusion of green roofs in her department's sustainable housing plans.

Such roofs have been hailed as useful for insulation, water capture (and recycling) and a general greening of the environment, which - and this may be very relevant to buy-to-let investors dealing in properties in the heart of cities - help cool down urban heat traps by reducing carbon dioxide levels, according to research this year from Manchester University.

But it may not just be city centre dwellers who want to live in a more pleasant environment. Many people renting from buy-to-let investors may prefer to live in homes that are eco-friendly and this number may grow. But to ensure enough properties are eco-friendly means ensuring they are being built in the first place.

This is where sections of the construction industry must catch up, according to Brian Berry, director of external affairs at the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).

He said there is a gulf between larger companies, such as Barratt, which are building eco-homes now and smaller firms, which have to "get up to speed".

"Barratt Homes have got a new housing development near Leeds and they're trying to make [homes] energy efficient and move towards low carbon homes as far as they can," he said. "They're developing the technology for green homes and they're using it as a prototype which they can grow across the country."

Smaller firms, however, have a problem, states Mr Berry, in that they are not aware of the level of demand for eco-homes and assume it is lower than it may actually be: "They think that there is a deficient demand at the moment from the public for green homes, because the challenge has been to provide more homes rather than worrying about whether they're green homes or not."

What this could mean is a shortfall in the lack of eco-homes, as well as homes overall, compared to demand in the next few years, both in the residential and rental markets. But this may not last too long, for as Mr Berry reminds, 2016 is approaching and then "everyone's got to respond". In the meantime, however, buy-to-let investors may well look to see if there is a potential premium to be gained on rents for the greenest properties.

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