Five Star Homebuilding: Does the Home Quality Mark signal a new era of UK homebuilding & procurement?
Chris Graham, Brand Manager, Roofing Superstore
With an extra £1.4 billion pledged to the construction of 40,000 homes in the UK this year and another £2.3 billion earmarked for the Housing Infrastructure Fund, significant strides are being made to create much-needed new homes across the nation. And in a country famous for its rising energy costs, these new homes will go to buyers increasingly seeking energy efficient properties.
The introduction of the British Science Centre’s Home Quality Mark (HQM) aims to set a voluntary national standard for all new properties. Filling some of the void left by the (now obsolete) Code for Sustainable Homes, the HQM uses an impartial five-star rating system to indicate a home’s overall quality to prospective purchasers by measuring its performance against a series of financial, wellbeing, environmental and social factors.
With over 97 per centof consumers stating that they would welcome the HQM, the standard could be set to become the industry-approved indicator of a comfortable, ecological, energy efficient and cost effective home, as well as being a key market differentiator for developers in a period of significant sector growth. Alongside rising global demand for the reduction of carbon emissions, it’s also an attractive option for architects and homeowners looking to achieve the maximum in home efficiency.
Unlike the Code for Sustainable Homes, the HQM is more complex and a good design only goes so far in meeting the strict criteria, with materials playing a vital part in determining a property’s final grading. Homebuilders, architects and even specifiers now have an incentive to use durable and responsibly sourced materials, from quality suppliers and manufacturers – but who is already leading the way in ‘HQM’ friendly materials? And with the standard also based on digital connectivity, should construction professionals be embracing more innovative forms of procurement?
The Devil is in the Detail
The standard has gained significant traction in just the past year, with over 4,000 homes already registered for assessment by independent BRE global assessors. The rigorous assessment process means that developers must provide credible and verifiable evidence of how a property meets a series of strict criteria and benchmarks.
Focusing on quality assurance from planning and specification, to final occupation, as well as the promotion of best practice in the housing sector, a HQM property must demonstrate excellent thermal properties, ventilation, acoustic qualities and breathability, as well as ensuring its impact to the surrounding environment is as limited as possible.
To earn top marks, the specification of high performing, quality materials from trusted suppliers is essential, particularly during the construction of a property’s internal and exterior envelope – both of which form the foundation of a five star HQM property. To assist designers and developers, BRE provides exacting technical design guidelines outlining the relationship between home design and occupant well-being.
For example, the standard advises a daylight factor of at least 2 per cent for kitchens, and a 43 Rw (dB) minimum level of sound insulation for internal walls and floors – elements which can have a measurable effect on an occupant’s ‘sense of security, quality of life and community cohesion’.
A significant number of manufacturers and suppliers have already welcomed the mark, taking up pilot schemes and promoting elements such as product durability, performance, and those accompanied by industry recognised accreditations, such as an Environment Product Declaration (EPD). Recognised by the HQM, products with EPD status help to communicate the environmental impact of a building material throughout its life cycle – evidence of responsible sourcing and future proofing in practice.
This is particularly prevalent in the roofing industry, with the likes of leading roofing systems manufacturer Marley Eternit boasting a product catalogue of materials with EPD accreditation, including its man-made fibre cement slates. Companies like Marley Eternit are also making it easier to access product and HQM information for customers via its website, whilst also providing technical support and staff training to ensure quality of workmanship in installation – an element surprisingly not covered in detail by the HQM.
Superior insulation is also a vital component of a HQM property, with excellent thermal performance and heat transfer qualities helping to guarantee breathability and airtightness. High quality breather membranes are an attractive option for HQM homes and are both UV and heat resistant, with their single layer technology guaranteeing air tightness. Requiring less layers than cheaper, thicker alternatives, breather membranes also have little impact on a property’s interior space.
Products with BBA certification, or are Local Authority Building Control endorsed, provide an extra level of quality assurance, with many brands featuring the BBA stamp of approval across their product ranges. Despite requiring a higher initial investment, by selecting high performing materials from trusted manufacturers, architects in particular can not only meet and exceed HQM standards, but also reduce homeowner costs by ensuring a property’s energy performance is consistently at its best.
With take up of the HQM mark looking only set to increase, the construction industry may see a change in the way products are specified, as homebuilders and architects select materials with responsible sourcing accreditations and durability guarantees, over cheaper alternatives. Arguably, with the HQM also evaluating a property based on its digital connectivity, this could be an opportunity for the construction industry to take a similar approach, utilising more innovative methods of procurement.
Online resources are a valuable channel for architects and contractors when evaluating and purchasing materials in accordance with the HQM. With a plethora of product information, technical guides and dedicated customers support teams, online stores often feature significantly larger product catalogues when compared to their traditional high street merchant counterparts.
This is particularly relevant for higher specification or bespoke construction projects, where the more unusual or innovative products required are not stocked readily by over-the-counter merchants. Even when used as a point of reference, construction eCommerce stores can be a convenient resource for those looking for the best HQM friendly products at a competitive price.
Looking to the Future
Whilst not yet mandatory, the future of the HQM depends entirely on consumer and homebuilder uptake, however goes some way in placing both the consumer and environment at the heart of construction, setting a higher standard for the industry. For those designing new homes, the mark places significant importance at every stage of a build, encouraging greater communication between every of the supply chain – all of which must work in tandem if the coveted grade is to be achieved.
Materials play a starring role in the HQM, and the industry should use this period of adaption as an opportunity to adopt new procurement practices to guarantee the high performance and quality associated with the standard, helping to push the boundaries of home design, sustainable building practices and product innovation. With homeowners set to enjoy a raft of benefits including significantly reduced energy costs, the HQM may become the first choice for all those looking for a new home.