You are no doubt aware of the scandal that has hit the headlines repeatedly in recent weeks involving a major car manufacturer. It could be suggested that if they made houses then they would fit right in.

Research shows that (most of) the houses studied fail to perform as predicted ...it is important to recognise that this is independent of how homeowners use their homes.

Due to failings in the design and construction process research suggests 95% of new homes lose more heat than they should ...AND they are not ventilated properly either (almost 80% of new homes examined according to research).

In many cases these houses have (in theory) been designed to the Building Regulations and the now defunct Code for Sustainable Homes.

This has a number of consequences:

  • Because these houses lose more heat than expected, as an owner, you need more energy to keep your house warm. This means your heating bills AND your carbon emissions are higher than they should be (which also means you pay more tax on your fuel bills).
  • Because research suggests (most) new houses are poorly ventilated indoor humidity is higher than it should be. This means dust mite populations will be higher and mould will be far more common. The result is increased risk to the health and wellbeing of you and your family.
  • Failure to rectify this will be an issue for every owner until the house is demolished.

If we look at what is going on in the house building industry then we can recognise parallels with the emissions scandal.

Consumers are being sold one product when in fact they are buying a product that does something else. (They are being sold a house that the seller suggests is meeting a given standard, whether it is energy performance, carbon emissions or ventilation, when in fact it has higher energy use, higher emissions and worse indoor air quality.)

It’s not all doom and gloom. Luckily there are some houses that are bucking the trend. There are houses that researchers have found perform "as predicted".

In each and every case these houses are designed to the Passivhaus Standard.

Whilst I’m not going to claim that designing, building or buying a Passivhaus will absolutely guarantee performance "as predicted" the evidence gathered by researchers is compelling.

What is particularly gratifying for me is the fact the some of the Passivhaus homes that have been studied were designed and built under my supervision.

If you want to have greater certainty that your rights as a consumer are being observed; or if you are a developer that wants to be on the right side of the law; then you may want to consider getting homes designed and built to the Passivhaus Standard – or at least use the same standards of quality assurance.

The new Consumer Rights Act came into force on the 1st of October 2015. Does this new research mean that sellers are exposed to accusations of misleading consumers?

It would be very interesting to understand whether, in the face of these apparent failures, the consumer rights of homeowners are being compromised and whether developers are exposed to previously unrecognised risks.

This material is intended as a guide only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct at time of print, Watson Burton LLP can accept no responsibility for actions taken based on this information.

Mark Siddall is an educator, author and practicing architect. His architectural practice LEAP specialises in Passivhaus and low energy design. www.leap4.it