The Code for Sustainable Homes

The Code for Sustainable Homes (the Code) is an environmental assessment method for rating and certifying the performance of new homes. It is a national standard for use in the design and construction of new homes with a view to encouraging continuous improvement in sustainable home building. The Code is based on EcoHomes© (Yates et al, 2004). It was launched in December 2006 with the publication of Code for Sustainable Homes: A step-change in sustainable home building practice (Communities and Local Government, 2006). The Code became operational in April 2007 in England¹, and having a Code rating for new build homes mandatory, from 1st May 2008. This mandatory requirement came into effect for all developments where a local authority received the building notice, initial notice or full plans application after 1st May 2008. Developments where a local authority had received these stages on or before 30 April 2008 are exempt.  Where Building Regulations apply, compliance is necessary at all times.

The implementation of the Code is managed by BRE Global (formerly BRE Certification Ltd) under contract to the Department for Communities and Local Government under arrangements based on the EcoHomes© operating systems.  BRE Global is the main license holder. Under the terms of its agreement with Communities and Local Government, BRE Global issues licenses to both assessors and other Code service providers. BRE Global provides training, licensing and registration of Code assessors to standards ISO 14001 and ISO 9001, within a UKAS registered ‘competent persons scheme’.

Code service providers are licensed organisations offering all or part of the range of Code services including assessor training; registration and monitoring; quality assurance of assessments; certification; investigation and resolution of complaints; and maintenance of records (BRE Global, 2007). As of January 2009, Stroma Ltd. is the only other organisation licensed to provide all Code services although several others are in discussions with BRE Global.

The Code for sustainable homes covers nine categories of sustainable design including:

  • Energy and CO2 Emissions
  • Water
  • Materials
  • Surface Water Run-off
  • Waste
  • Pollution
  • Health and Wellbeing
  • Management
  • Ecology

Each category includes a number of environmental issues. Each issue is a source of impact on the environment which can be assessed against a performance target and awarded one or more credits. Performance targets are more demanding than the minimum standard needed to satisfy Building Regulations or other legislation. They represent good or best practice, are deemed technically feasible, and can be delivered by the building industry. Homes have already been built to Code level 4 and above in the UK.

The Code differs from its predecessor EcoHomes© by:

  • Rating dwellings on a scale from Level 1 to level 6, where level 6 is the highest
  • Assessing individual dwellings instead of a development site
  • Establishing minimum mandatory standards for CO2 emission rates, indoor water use, materials, waste and surface water run-off, for achieving even the lowest level of the Code
  • Demanding higher minimum mandatory standards for CO2 emission rates and indoor water use, to achieve Levels 2 to 6 of the Code
  • Requiring compliance with the Lifetime Homes criteria to achieve Level 6 of the Code
  • Assessing dwellings at both the design (DS) and post construction (PCS) stage
  • Awarding final Code certificates after the post construction assessment has been carried out
  • For dwellings which are not assessed, a nil-rated certificate is issued.

In addition to the mandatory standards, each design category scores a number of percentage points. The total number of percentage points establishes the Level or Rating for the dwelling. The certificate illustrates the rating achieved with a row of stars. A blue star is awarded for each level achieved. Where an assessment has taken place by where no rating is achieved, the certificate states that zero stars have been awarded.

From 1st May 2008 it is mandatory for a Code sustainability certificate or a nil rated Certificate (where an assessment has not taken place) to be included in the Home Information Pack as information to prospective purchasers of properties in England.  This applies to all new homes that are marketed for sale, although a nil rated certificate of non-assessment can be downloaded from www.bre.co.uk,
www.stroma.com or www.homeinformationpacks.gov.uk.

¹ The Code does not apply in Scotland. From 1 May 2008 a minimum of Code level 3 is required for all new housing promoted or supported by the Welsh Assembly Government or Assembly Government Sponsored Bodies. From 2nd June 2008 Code Level 3 is required for all new self-contained social housing in Northern Ireland.

The Stages of a Code Assessment – The Blewburton Partnership approach

Pre-assessment
This will normally involve an initial meeting to understand the type of development proposed and any legal requirements pertaining to Code level requirement.  A checklist for each category will be undertaken to ascertain which issues can be approached with certainty, an element of confidence, those that need more clarity (for either the assessor and/or the client) and those with which more information is going to be required.  This will lead to a report for the client, outlining the position, highlighting key issues to be aware of from the start of the project and, if required, suggestions on how to reach a higher Code level.  At this stage, if possible, we also like to commence any SAP calculations that need to be undertaken (if not already assigned elsewhere).  At this stage, we also suggest registering the site with the BRE to mitigate against any dramatic changes in the Code from time of pre-assessment to commencement of project

Design stage report
Once the key issues identified from the pre-assessment have been clarified the onus moves onto preparing the Design Stage Report for submission to BRE to demonstrate the claims being made.  This process can be rather bureaucratic and various reports, drawings, details of products specified and an overall specification etc. will be required.  Once all proof to backup claims is in place, the report is prepared and submitted to the BRE, who may come back with queries and questions.  Once these are resolved to their satisfaction, interim certification for the development can be released.

Post construction review
The Post Construction Review stage reviews the dwelling(s), once complete, to determine the final score and Code Level attained. The Design Stage Report is used as the starting point for this work.  The purpose of this stage is to confirm that dwellings are either, built to the Design Stage specifications, or if there are variances, that these are documented, reassessed, and a new score and Code Level calculated for each dwelling affected. The assessor must be satisfied that commitments made at Design Stage have been achieved and will carry out an appropriate level of checking to achieve this. If there has been no prior Design Stage report then the full assessment can be completed against the As Built dwelling(s).  A Post Construction Review report will be produced and submitted to the BRE, and once approved by their QA procedure, final sign off and certification will be delivered to the development.

Consultation
The Code will evolve through time as different technologies and approaches to sustainability develop and the importance of the various categories grows or weakens.  For many people involved in development, knowledge of the Code, its requirements and how to reach the various levels is limited.  Therefore, The Blewburton Partnership offers consultancy at all the stages of the process listed above and is open to learning as well as providing options, advice and suggestions in what is a fast moving field.  Our experience shows that there is rarely a Code Assessment where some form of additional consultancy is required.

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