By Kevin Reid, chief executive of the Cruden Group
IN the 2018-2019 financial year more new homes were built in Scotland than at any time since the crash of 2008. Covid put the brakes on activity levels and although work has restarted, shortages of materials and skilled labour are hampering the speed at which houses are being built.
It will take time to recover to the pre-pandemic level of more than 21,000 annual completions, but amongst the supply-chain problems, worker shortages, impact of self-isolating employees and all the other issues that are slowing down recovery in the construction sector, there has to be a commitment from everyone involved that whatever gets built on this side of the Covid-divide is as close to net carbon zero as it can possibly be.
Today (September 15) is Scottish Housing Day when all of us, from contractors to occupiers, are being challenged to do what we can to reduce CO2 emissions. At Cruden we are taking the issue seriously and last month we signed a three-year green energy supply contract with ScottishPower that will ensure that all electricity supplied to Cruden and to our housing sites is generated solely by wind farms. We are also working with Scottish Power to develop more green energy solutions including ground and air source heat pumps, as well as the infrastructure that will enable electric vehicle charging as standard across many of our developments.
Meanwhile at Drymen, near Loch Lomond, we are building 15 affordable homes to Passivhaus standards. These homes, for Hanover Scotland, will use up to 90% less energy for heating and cooling than conventional buildings, helping to tackle fuel poverty and future-proofing occupants from unexpected weather patterns. By installing exceptional levels of insulation and orientating the houses to achieve maximum solar gain, the need for top-up heating will be reduced to an absolute minimum.
But building to this standard costs more than when using conventional methods and materials and so if we truly are to get serious about tackling climate change through construction then everyone, from the local authorities and housing associations that commission new developments, right down to home buyers in search of a new property, are all going to have to be willing to pay more for homes that sit lightly on the environment.
At the moment many of the new technologies that could reduce emissions are costly but they will reduce in price as they become more widely used, as we have already witnessed. When they were first introduced photovoltaic solar panels were prohibitively expensive, but they are now a standard feature on many builds and five years ago we installed them on the roof of our office building in Cambuslang as a way of further reducing our own carbon footprint.
Other ways of bringing down our CO2 profile involve good planning and forethought, such as the use of local suppliers for our developments and our efforts to reduce the amount of waste produced on site. And although we may have to wait a few years to see them, electric fork-lifts and diggers are the next logical step in reducing both emissions and noise pollution.
We need new homes, which is why the housebuilding industry is working at full stretch to regain the ground lost during the last 18 months, but in the rush to build we must keep in mind the fact that climate change has the potential to be a greater crisis than the Pandemic and that everything we do to reduce our carbon footprint while constructing green and energy-efficient homes, is contributing to a better future for the planet.