Planning for a sustainable home

Apex Sustainable home

Looking at making your existing or future home sustainable and eco-friendly? There are some planning issues you will need to consider…

Developing with sustainability in mind

Last month we looked at whether the latest planning guidelines – outlined in the latest white paper ‘Planning for the Future’ – really did enough to encourage a sustainable way of developing new homes and other buildings.

This month, we look at what you can do to make your own development – whether it is a new build or renovation – as sustainable and eco-friendly as possible, within the planning rules. In general, it should be no more difficult to get planning permission for a sustainable project than it is for a more conventional building. As in any other project, the location will be key, and it’s possible that your choice of building materials will be a focus of any planning objections.

For example, if you have a particular material in mind – perhaps to reflect the sun or keep your carbon footprint down – you may find that local expectations will govern what you can use. This is likely to be especially so within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Conservation Area, or National Park, where you may be restricted to a particular material – brick or stone – for your external walls, or a specific roofing material.

Sustainability plan

Many local authorities have a Sustainability Plan. This is something that you should investigate, as it could be your key to getting planning permission for your environmentally-friendly building.

You can also find the Local Plan and search for any design statements, which will give the requirements for new buildings, or the use of local materials, which could be pertinent to your own development. Visit the website of your local authority as a starting point.

Making a property sustainable

Things that a sustainable developer is likely to want to install – such as solar panels and high-efficiency glazing – may come up against objections if you are building within a conservation area for example. Ideally, see if you can find examples of similar buildings within the area (or within similar designated areas elsewhere in the UK) and use these examples to argue your own case with planning officers.

The key to your sustainable development will be looking at how you can save energy, as we said above, through your choice of windows or insulation, as well as possibly looking at how to generate your own energy from your new home, using solar panels, heat pumps, biomass heaters or even hydroelectricity.

The good news is that planning permission is not usually required for solar panels, provided that they don’t project more than 20mm from the wall or roof slope and are not higher than the highest part of the roof (not including the chimney).

Nor is planning permission usually required for ground source heat pumps, air source heat pumps and flues that form part of biomass heating systems.

However, as always, there may be local rules that apply to your area, so consulting with the relevant planning officer (or enlisting a planning consultant to do this for you) before investing in your development is always advised.

The Future Homes Standard

It’s not all about things as high-profile as biomass heating and solar panels though. The Future Homes Standard (expected to be introduced in 2025) will require that new build homes will be future-proofed with low carbon heating and ‘world-leading levels of energy efficiency’. Current building regulations also require that new homes and extensions have energy-saving features such as cavity insulation, and that floors and lofts are well insulated. Thermostatic valves on radiators and low-energy lighting also need to be considered.

Sustainable materials

If you are adding an extension, especially to a period property, you could consider using reclaimed/recycled materials, which will be more in keeping with the look of your original building. These might also be looked upon more favourably by planning officials when considering your application – and will keep down your carbon footprint as you are not using any energy to create new bricks or window frames, for instance.

Other sustainable materials to consider include cellulose insulation, which is made from recycled newspaper, fire retardants and recycled fibreglass, and hempcrete, made from hemp shiv fibres and lime. Sheep’s wool is another sustainable insulation material.

When it comes to choosing wood products, Bamboo is fast growing and can be harvested after one to five years, whereas oak can only be used after 40 years of growth. However, it does have a carbon footprint thanks to the fact that it has to be imported into the UK.

Natural stone may be the building material to choose in National Parks and similar areas, and if used to build the walls in timber framed buildings in place of steel or concrete, it can significantly lower your carbon footprint. This is because it uses significantly less energy than the manufacturing process for concrete or steel. It should be noted that this applies to local stone only – if it has to be imported, naturally the carbon footprint increases. Engineered timber is another material that can be used to replace steel and concrete.

If you would like to discuss your own sustainable project with us, or just find out more about what we do, please continue to browse the website or drop us an email to: without obligation.