New Ways of Living


Written by:

John Jackson
Section Editor
Business News Wales


During my first eighteen years on this planet I lived in the same house that radically changed its main source of heating no less than three times.

From an initial Rayburn and coal fire in the living room both being fed by regular deliveries of coal, followed by an ill-fated costly-to-run oil-fired system, through to the mainstay of domestic heating and hot water supply – the gas boiler.

That’s how it remained right up to the present day, as a source for heating and hot water, the convenience and relative cost-effectiveness of gas boilers has undoubtedly been key to their success and popularity with householders across the country. Of course, there’s a downside that comes in the guise of carbon emissions that result from the burning of fossil fuels in our homes. The scale of this downside shouldn’t be underestimated, The Homes of Tomorrow report documents that in Wales housing is responsible for 21% of our carbon emissions and in order to meet our decarbonisation targets changing our sources of energy is essential.

Progress is already being made, including the innovative Homes as Power Stations Project that is working to deliver low carbon, energy efficient homes in the Swansea Bay City Deal Area. The Welsh Government has provided £9.5m through its Optimised Retrofit Programme to fund the fitting of energy efficiency measures in up to 1,000 existing homes owned by registered social landlords and councils. These are just two examples of the work being undertaken to bring about a zero carbon housing future in Wales, and there are plenty more.

What is likely to characterise how we “energise” our homes in the future will be a move away from the traditional mains grid energy delivery we’ve become accustomed to for our gas and electric supplies. Instead, our homes will become highly energy efficient, and increasingly will see the use of ground source heat pumps, photovoltaic energy generation and storage systems and even hydrogen boilers to meet our domestic energy requirements.

Changing how we “energise” our homes will be a significant change to the way we live, and whilst initially it may seem more complex and have more upfront costs, the right systems should not only see our carbon emissions significantly reduce, but ongoing running costs should also decrease. This will depend on the energy efficiency of the home itself combined with the cost and efficiency of the system(s) being used to generate and store the energy.

However, it's not only our relationship with energy that’s changing, in part driven by the housing crisis, we are starting to see an increase in the variety of housing tenure options. The buying, private renting and housing association resident options are being complemented by councils starting to build again along with cooperative housing schemes. This should help to increase not just the supply but also the variety of choice for people.

Interestingly, another model for living is also becoming available that is more akin to leasing a home, where a range of household costs are rolled into a single monthly payment. Such arrangements include home maintenance and can even include an electric car. For “generation rent” where home ownership is a distant dream you can see this type of living having significant appeal. Likewise for people looking to downsize and release capital from their bought and paid for home this opportunity to have worry-free living in a new energy efficient home with a single monthly payment could prove to be a highly attractive proposition.

In Wales, award-winning Sero Homes are introducing this innovative choice and co-founder and Managing Director James Williams explains how this new way of living works:

“Our Zero Carbon Living offer to customers addresses the broader view of affordability in which customers need to pay for a roof over their head, keep their home warm and travel to a place of work, via a sustainable means of transport if possible. We’ll offer residents this whole package – which takes away the upfront cost barrier to a sustainable home and provides the ability to include an electric vehicle lease (with charging) included as part of the package. This solution allows greater realisation of the reduced running costs and long-term benefits that Zero Carbon homes can bring, whilst allowing customers to reduce their day-to-day Carbon footprint to zero. We’re really excited to see how this is received by a variety of customers and demographics looking for cost certainty, professional support and planet saving solutions.”

Increasing numbers of existing homes will be retrofitted to help make them as energy efficient as possible, new homes will increasingly be designed and built to be highly energy efficient, how we “energise” our homes is changing and tenure options are increasing. These changes are being driven by the need to meet, if not exceed our carbon emission targets, the need to build energy efficient homes at higher volumes, and as a reflection of the increasingly diverse ways people choose to live their lives.

To effectively support these new ways of living housing will become a far less homogeneous product, this in itself has the potential to create significant new opportunities within the sector in terms of placemaking, house design and construction. The change in the way we live has the potential on a personal level to improve our wellbeing, on a national level to create new jobs, and globally to help to protect our environment, all of which should make it highly desirable to switch from burning fossil fuels and instead embrace a zero carbon future.