Habitat House
Habitat House in the the England's Cotswolds is designed to last 1000. credit: Whathouse?

New consumer research in Britain has found that around half of new home buyers and tenants under 40 years of age actively seek eco-aware homes, showing that the public is now more conscious of sustainability than ever before.

In a survey by Eurocell of 1000 25-40 year olds (half homeowners, half renters), more than half (52 per cent) said it was either somewhat or very important that their home is made using environmentally-responsible materials. 

49 per cent said they would be more likely to buy or rent an eco-conscious home, and 22 per cent said the use of recycled and sustainable building products was an appealing sustainability feature.

When asked what other sustainability features they find most appealing, the responses were:

  • double/triple glazing (58 per cent)
  • maximising the amount of natural light in the home (41 per cent)
  • feeling safe and secure (37 per cent)
  • access to outdoor space (36 per cent)
  • solar panels, energy efficient appliances and overall design and layout (all 35 per cent).

A strong desire for natural lighting is perhaps surprising; 80 per cent of respondents said that natural light in the home is either very or somewhat important; 48 per cent said they would pay more to have a home with more natural light; and 57 per cent said they would be more likely to buy or rent a home if it had more natural light.

Natural lighting implies good windows, so the participants were asked about their preferences for new windows. These were: 

  • improving energy efficiency (52 per cent)
  • having the ability to shade against sunlight (29 per cent)
  • increasing natural light (38 per cent)
  • the use of sustainable materials (26 per cent)
  • noise reduction (35 per cent). 

The benefits of natural light are well recognised and include improved health, happiness, productivity and better mental well-being. Research also suggests it can help reduce the effects of seasonal affective disorder. 

However, when asked if they would be willing to pay more for general sustainability features only a third would pay up to 10 per cent more; 28 per cent would pay up to 20 per cent more; and 22 per cent would pay up to 30 per cent extra.

When asked about which design trends appealed to them most, again, eco-friendly homes topped the list, above appearance. Biophilic design – incorporating nature – featured strongly:

  • An eco-friendly home: 28.6 per cent
  • Open plan living: 23.7 per cent
  • Floor to ceiling windows: 23.3 per cent
  • A minimalist look: 23.3 per cent
  • Fashionable interiors: 20.8 per cent
  • Integrated smart technology: 18.10 per cent
  • Biophilic design: 16.3 per cent
  • Designs that reduce noise pollution 16 per cent.
P.A.T.H. prototype by Philippe Starck + Riko. Photo: Riko

Industry reaction

Following the survey, Eurocell convened a round table of house construction experts from Simpson Haugh, Hawkins Brown, BDP and The High Street Group to discuss the findings.

Several attendees thought that home sustainability features were being voluntarily incorporated by developers, rather than being led by legislation. 

“Some of our local authority clients like to be seen as leading the way and pushing standards when it comes to sustainability,” Stephen Marshall, architect director and head of housing at BDP, said.

“They need to be seen to be doing the right thing and as such will go above and beyond minimum requirements. It might take time for this to impact the standards that others build to, but this may happen as buyers start to ask why the council is offering something that private developers are not.”

All agreed that demand from consumers and tenants is likely and crucial to drive the sustainable building movement forward. Post-occupancy evaluations were cited as vital to ensure that sustainability features are working in practice.

Regulation versus design versus cost was the main equation round table participants kept returning to on the subject of natural light. “Everyone would like to have more natural light in their homes, [but] it’s about balancing how we can achieve this,” James Roberts, project architect at SimpsonHaugh, said.

“For example, variation in local legislations can impact the amount of glass that is feasible within the fabric. Regardless, this needs to be balanced with an environmentally responsible design solution that considers a variety of aspects, such as the building systems and the overall design aims.”

According to Francesca Roberts, an architect at Hawkins Brown, “it’s about careful placement of the windows… It’s about finding that sweet spot, through proper testing and analysis. The placement should not be determined by rolling out a standard house type across a site, with the window placement being left to chance.”

The round table participants discussed whether it is possible to provide more eco-conscious homes without increasing property or rental prices. Everyone agreed that cost was still a huge driver – weighing up land costs, construction costs and sale cost to make a profit. 

James Roberts noted that “it comes down to what is tangible. People understand the concept of double glazing and smart meters, for example. However, if you look at the sustainability credentials of the materials used, or how airtight a home is, these are less tangible yet can have an equally significant impact on how sustainable a home is. As such, willingness to invest in some ‘sustainable design features’ is likely to increase as the public’s understanding of them does. Some they will already be investing in, without appreciating it.”

Jon Rukin, development manager at High Street Group, said : “From a design perspective, pushing boundaries too far for developers of apartments either for sale or rent, is a leap of faith. The time taken from finalising design to handing over the completed development and receiving feedback from the market can be a couple of years and feedback from low rise developments can be gained earlier as plots are released progressively and designs can be amended to reflect initial feedback from the market.”

Stephen Marshall noted that outdoor space can suffer as a result of cost saving as it’s often one of the things that’s squeezed out of a project towards the end. However, he noted that “how public areas and gardens are landscaped can make a huge difference to the perception of the building”. 

Marshall also noted that “design and layout shouldn’t cost more if done correctly and carefully planned from the outset.”

Additionally, 53 per cent of respondents said they would be either very or quite interested in technology-enabled products being included in the build of their home. However, as Francesca Roberts pointed out, technology is changing so quickly, to the point that it’s hard to predict what the smart home will look like in 20 years’ time. “So much technology these days is wireless anyway, so it doesn’t necessarily need embedding.” 

James Roberts believed that “money is better invested in quality architectural design than on embedding fast changing technology”.

David Thorpe is the author of Passive Solar Architecture Pocket Reference, Energy Management in Buildings, and Sustainable Home Refurbishment.

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