Riverside Sunderland

(Image: Mawson Kerr & Proctor and Matthews Architects)

How the residential property market is meeting buyer demand for sustainable and energy efficient homes

Research shows that around 40% of global emissions come from the real estate sector. If we are to meet the UN target of reducing global warming, then these emissions must be curtailed. The UK is legally bound by a target of net-zero emissions by the year 2050. A UK-wide housing project which draws on the need for sector-wide transformation, from new building materials, new practices, and new ideas.

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According to Building for 2050 the UK needs to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero. Homes – both new and existing – account for 17% of greenhouse gas emissions and while considerable progress has been made, more must be done to decarbonise homes to help meet the Government’s commitment to achieve net zero emissions
by 2050.

In 2019, the Government introduced the Future Homes Standard for England by 2025. This is a standard that ensures all houses are future-proofed with low carbon heating and high levels of energy efficiency. It is assumed that new homes built under this specification will produce little to no operational carbon dioxide and provides a 75% to 80% reduction in emissions in comparison to those built under Standard Building Regulations.

Sustainable and energy efficient homes

New strategies are needed to meet low carbon emissions. This requirement goes beyond the home itself and recognises the whole life cycle of the building from the operational carbon (resulting from the construction process) to the use of the building over its entire life, including demolition and disposal.

But it’s not just these standards and targets driving the change though - we also know that consumers are increasingly putting emissions and energy efficiency higher than ever on their lists of factors shaping their choices about where to live. Research by Legal and General found that there has been a sharp increase of 34% in searches for eco-friendly properties, and that renters are willing to pay a 13% premium for a low carbon home.

Sustainable and energy efficient homes

So, what are housebuilders doing to meet these demands?

1. Materials

In the building industry, environmentally friendly materials are those which, for their production, placing and maintenance, are of low environmental impact. Constructing with sustainable building materials can save money alongside ‘doing your bit’ for the environment and giving house builders those all-important credits towards a BREEAM rating and other environmental assessment tools.

Many people think of traditional construction materials when it comes to housebuilding, but there are many materials that have great sustainable credentials and are considered greener when constructing new buildings. For example,

  • Timber instead of steel
  • Concrete reinforced with natural fibres
  • Geo-textiles made from crops like hemp
  • Reclaimed, recycled or sustainable wood

Housebuilders who are leaning on these sustainable materials can pass on cost savings to the end user or buyer and hand over the project with a cleaner conscience on its environmental impact overall.

Environmentally Friendly Materials

2. Supply chains, operations, and processes

Making a real difference involves taking a holistic view of the entire supply chain, operations, and processes. With this knowledge, companies must fully commit to their sustainability goals and follow strict processes. Part of this lies in choosing the correct suppliers with ethical and sustainable credentials.

Working to achieve standards such as ISO or BIM, will show that a company is working to do ‘the right thing’ by reducing the impact of their operations on the wider environment and is always working towards continual improvement to reduce their impact through the likes of targets to reduce energy and fuel consumption as well as bettering recycling rates.

The responsibility of a company runs from the sourcing of components right through to the end-user. Diverting waste from landfills wherever possible can make a drastic difference, as can reduction targets for things that may seem small, including water and energy usage.

The entire supply chain plays a part here, which includes packaging. Making simple switches like using less packaging and making sure the latest innovations are being utilised can all help. Equally important, yet just as easy, is reconsidering delivery routes. Combining deliveries or deliveries in bulk could result in less fuel being used, lowering costs for all, and reducing the overall carbon footprint.

Supply chains, operations, and processes

3. Sustainable technologies or practices

Fibre-optic broadband

Many new homes now benefit from fibre-optics for speedier broadband connections. With housebuilders working alongside communication network companies to replace existing copper cables with optical fibres, homeowners find they consume less energy while browsing or using multiple devices in their homes. Optical fibres have also got a lengthier lifespan under the ground and have been known to live 25 years longer than typical copper plating, creating less waste and less resource for maintenance.

Rainwater harvesting

Grey skies and wet weather can be a nuisance when living in the UK but not when it comes to rainwater harvesting systems. Rainwater harvesting is sometimes considered from the outset of a housing scheme, but it can also be added post-build and sourced from a local garden centre or hardware store. Rainwater harvesting is the process of collecting, storing and then using rainwater as an alternative or complementary source to mains water. Harvested rainwater is commonly used for watering plants and flowers or washing cars – helping homeowners to save money and re-use the planet’s most valuable natural resources. Rainwater harvesting can be known to reduce water consumption by up to 50%.

Rainwater harvesting

Heat pumps

In specific housing schemes, heat pumps are installed into new homes to support energy consumption. By pumping or moving heat from one source to another using a compressor and a circulating structure of liquid or gas refrigerant, through which heat is extracted from outside sources (such as the heat of the soil in the garden or the outdoor air), it is then transferred to the home.

Heat pumps require much less electricity, as opposed to electric boilers, and can often achieve a 300-400% efficiency rate. Besides heating the home, during the summers the cycle can be reversed and the unit acts like an air conditioner.

Natural insulation

Insulation is key to a sustainable home, locking in precious resources. There are a number of green alternatives for housebuilders such as synthetic insulation, including sheep’s wool, flax and hemp and wood fibre. Natural insulation materials are made from renewable resources and have low embodied energy. They can also be reused and recycled and are fully biodegradable.

Heat pumps

Solar sources

Although it is not one of the newest technologies to the housebuilding industry, solar panels and solar lighting provide an instant, low energy, low carbon means of reducing energy consumption and filling your home with beautiful renewable energy lighting. Housebuilders will use and install solar panels where possible to provide more efficient energy sources.


Living roofs are a blanket layer of vegetation helping to provide a breath of fresh air by utilising plants’ natural ability to filter pollutants. As well as brightening the day of passers-by with their natural good looks, living roofs absorb and filter rainwater, provide insulation and create a habitat for wildlife. Many housebuilders are now creating more spaces for biodiversity and natural habitats for wildlife, such as bat boxes built within the brickwork of new build houses next to forestry or wildlife reserves.

Solar sources

Energy efficiency meters and devices

In-house energy display systems are being installed to drive energy consumption behavioural change by creating awareness about the amount of electricity and gas we use daily. These new digital meters also provide accuracy for household bills and help manage consumption overall.

Digital thermostats within new build homes also provide homeowners with the opportunity to split temperature controls between floors in the home to avoid heating unnecessary rooms or spaces.

Energy efficiency meters and devices

Who is already leading the way with sustainable and eco-friendly homes?

It is clear there is still a long way to go to create substantial change within the homebuilding industry. That said, there are a few property developers and local authorities in the North East who are already making plans to provide cleaner, eco-friendly homes fit for the future of sustainable living.

Here we celebrate some of their innovative designs, technologies (and award wins!) and give you some of our ‘top sites to watch for sustainable living’ over the next few years.

Who is already leading the way with sustainable and eco-friendly homes?

Riverside Sunderland

Set on the banks of the River Wear, Riverside Sunderland boasts a whopping 33.2 hectares of land where 1,000 new homes will be available to buy or rent in four riverside neighbourhoods in the next few years.

With an approach guided by the principles of integrated sustainability, Riverside Sunderland residential housing will be built with circular economy and low embodied impact, biodiversity, resilience, community, and wellbeing in mind.

It will use existing green spaces to surround the site for community gatherings and events, provide play areas and allotments for recreational activities, microclimate and shelter around the buildings to provide cool and relaxing sitting areas, as well as provide best-in-class sustainable designs, using sustainable materials and nature-based solutions. Made in Sunderland, these homes will offer the best in contemporary living: factory-built to the highest standards, energy efficient, technology-enabled, and super-connected to the city’s emerging 5G network. A good place to live and good for the future of the planet.

Riverside Sunderland will redefine what city centre living means, providing access to all local services, shops, entertainment, and transport within a short walk of the neighbourhoods.

Included in the scheme will be the national Home of 2030 design competition winner – a competition which explored how homes will look and function in the future. Igloo, working with Sunderland City Council, plan to build the winning +Home, and all five shortlisted schemes at the month-long EXPO Sunderland in October 2023. The homes will be built in entirety, so visitors will have the unique opportunity to touch, feel and experience first-hand the winning vision for the future of housing.

Riverside Sunderland

(Left Image: FaulknerBrowns Architects & Pillar Visuals / Right Image: Mawson Kerr, Pillar Visuals & Proctor and Matthews Architects)

Benwell Dene, Newcastle

Leading and award-winning build-to-rent provider Placefirst is in full swing with planning permission for an exciting new 146 home scheme in Newcastle.

Located two-miles from Newcastle city centre, the site will deliver two, three and four-bedroom homes in partnership with JM Architects and Southern Green. The design integrates a network of sustainable urban drainage systems and communal green spaces, as well as public open space and an area dedicated to habitat creation and biodiversity net gain.

The plans are sympathetic to the historic layout of the site, working to create a modern and sustainable interpretation of the traditional terrace street patterns, with unique views across the Tyne Valley.

All homes will be designed to a high specification with a focus on sustainability and energy efficiency and a fabric-first approach to maximise thermal efficiency and renewable technologies including photovoltaic panels and air source heat pumps. The neighbourhood will also accommodate electric vehicle charging and a resident car club.

A prominent development within the heart of the West End of Newcastle.

Benwell Dene, Newcastle

(Image: Placefirst)

Ordnance Lane, York

The homes in the Ordnance Lane project in York will be built to certified Passivhaus standards and will have net zero carbon emissions in operation, with energy generated by renewables on site. Passivhaus, dubbed the gold standard by non-profit organisation the Energy Saving Trust, refers to buildings developed to rigorous energy-efficient design standards so that they maintain an almost constant temperature and require very little extra heating or cooling.

The project – led by City of York Council – will bring 85 zero-carbon homes to the city centre that commits to improving the health of current and future residents and promoting low-carbon lifestyles. The scheme will also include communal space for residents, an urban orchard, a natural play area, communal growing beds, and both shared and private gardens.

Denise Craghill, executive member for housing and safer neighbourhoods at City of York Council, said: “We’re starting work on the first Passivhaus homes this summer, which are designed to meet the challenges of climate change while creating beautiful, versatile living spaces set in green open space.”

Ordnance Lane, York

(Image: Darc Studios & Mikhail Riches)

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