Energy centre stage

New Homes & Developments. Once merely ‘nice to have’, technologies such as renewable energy sources, heat recovery systems and A-grade insulation, are increasingly regarded as essential. In time, self-healing, biologically grown bricks might be, too.

Louisa Hooper, who heads up New Homes at our Exeter office, has been selling the ultra energy efficient properties of one developer - Heritage Homes - for almost a decade. Throughout that time, all of their houses have been zero carbon, or A-rated for energy efficiency or both. She says that at the beginning the systems involved were, to most buyers, a novelty, perhaps even worryingly unfamiliar.

Above right: Drakes Meadow, Upexe, Exeter 
The largest of the three homes, this spacious four bedroom detached single storey home includes a double car port, garden store, garden and additional 0.3 acres agricultural land. Guide price £1,050,000.

That began to change significantly some five years ago, growing steadily in importance until this year when, as she put it, energy moved centre stage: “What is so striking is how knowledgeable buyers now are, about the different low carbon technologies. It feels that, at last, these brilliant features are being given the credit they have always deserved.”

Louisa’s stock at the moment includes three houses near Exeter which, as one buyer enthused, are “all but off-grid” having a private water supply, solar panels, air source heat pumps and incredibly good insulation, including triple glazing. She adds that, as well as the low energy costs, buyers are attracted by the minimal maintenance needs of high quality new homes: “My colleagues love their rambling period homes but they can involve a lot of work, year after year, to keep in good condition”.

Tax breaks draw first time buyers
The priority of energy efficiency is common across the country, not least in the South East, where the combination of heating costs, high rents and lower stamp duty, is encouraging former tenants to buy, contributing towards a broader strong start to the year.

Above left: Prestbury, Cheshire
An impressive barn with planning permission to create a 5,220 sq ft luxury house sitting in about 6.5 acres, at the end of a privately owned drive, in the heart of Prestbury village. Offers in excess of £1,200,000.

Since September, first time buyers pay no stamp duty up to £425,000 and then 5% up to £625,000. First time buyers at that higher level are still rare, but they do exist, often being older, quite senior executives returning from a long stint abroad.

Whatever their position, they do, as Stuart Routledge of our Oxted office has seen, strongly resist going over the threshold because, at that point, all tax relief is lost: “Go £1 over £625,000, and the tax payable jumps from £10,000 to nearly £19,000”.

Growing, self-healing bricks
The majority of new homes are built using materials and methods little different from fifty, even a hundred years ago. This is changing fast, as demand for low energy costs combines forces with new regulations.

Right: Felbridge, East Grinstead
An exclusive gated development of just three substantial and well appointed detached 5 Bedroom family houses of about 3710 sq ft. Guide price £2,000,000.

The Future Homes Standard complements existing building regulations, requiring new homes built from 2025 to produce 75% less carbon emissions than homes built under the old regulations. This has created a stepchange in demand for well-established biomaterials such as cross-laminated timber and ‘hempcrete’ building blocks. The latter are made from hemp and lime and are carbon negative.

It is also heightening interest in innovative products such as those of the US company Biomason, which is growing selfhealing biocement. This uses natural bacterial calcification to grow a brick in the same time as it takes to make a kiln fired brick, and to seal cracks and bond surfaces. Whichever materials are most favoured, we look set to see more change on this front in the next ten years, than in the last 100.