Can BTR play a leading role in the fight against climate change?

Architects PRP discuss the role Build to Rent can play in the fight against climate change. Can the sector even lead the way?

Canada Gardens, Wembley Park, a scheme of PRP architects who discuss if BTR can lead the way in fighting climate change. Image credit: Chris Winter | BTR News
Canada Gardens, Wembley Park, a scheme of PRP architects who discuss if BTR can lead the way in fighting climate change. Image credit: Chris Winter.

We all acknowledge that more needs to be done to reduce our impact on our precious planet. The building industry has a significant role to play in tackling climate change and we can all agree that we can, and must, do better.

By Craig Sheach, Partner, PRP

Yet so far, our response has too often been driven by compliance with regulations using minimum performance standards during the planning and construction process, typically with a focus only on regulated energy use. Most homes are delivered to these minimum standards and then left to the homeowner to maintain and operate, often without understanding what they have bought and how best to use it.

Craig Sheach, Partner, PRP | BTR News
Craig Sheach, Partner, PRP.

While following regulations is important, a more holistic, long-sighted approach is needed. Can the Build to Rent sector signpost the way to achieve this and even lead the way?

The benefit of the Build to Rent model is that institutional investors who own a building have a vested interest in long-term commercial success. The focus is as much on the management, longevity and stewardship of the development and its surroundings, as the short-term outcomes of the planning and construction process.

Reasonable rent and low service charges create an attractive package for prospective tenants, so Build to Rent developers have a greater awareness of the need for a fabric-first and well-constructed building. Good insulation values, low thermal bridging and reduced air permeability lower energy usage and thereby costs to tenants as well as the cost to the operator of installing and maintaining energy systems. Consideration at the design stage of the robustness and durability of building elements helps elongate maintenance cycles, reducing waste and lifecycle carbon. This in turn reduces ongoing costs to renters, and operational costs to the Build to Rent provider.

As the Build to Rent investor has a long-term interest in post occupancy monitoring of these operational costs, this data helps them hone their management strategy. It allows them to identify areas of improvement and inform the performance and specification of future developments. Beyond this, repairs and refurbishments can follow and respond to the emerging and improved standards and practices. Replacements can be sourced with the latest lowest embodied carbon products with a focus on ethically sourcing materials and components. The latest energy and water efficient technologies can replace out-of-date ones all to the benefit of the renter and the planet.

Because Build to Rent investors ‘stick around’, they are able to induct each tenant into the buildings systems and their proper use, further reducing wastage and improving efficiency. This has an interesting side effect: the induction of the tenants in how to use the building systems raises general awareness within the population of the importance of good energy, water and waste management.

There is a keen focus on lifestyle within contemporary Build to Rent developments. Social interaction, places to engage with nature, good ventilation, daylight, and opportunities for physical activity all help contribute to human health and wellbeing along with accompanying wider environmental benefits as we are seeing at one of our schemes, Canada Gardens at Wembley Park.

So why is all of this important? More often pension fund CSR and investor shareholders demand ethical and environmental ‘returns’ alongside the financial outturn. Alongside this, and growing in importance, is that prospective tenants are voting with their feet. The environment is becoming an integral part of their thinking and a development that can demonstrate environmental awareness will appeal more and more. As a USP, it both helps the planet and decreases voids and churn – good social conduct and great business sense.

The Build to Rent sector is starting to awaken to the power and importance of the environment and, more so than traditional house building, has the opportunity to be an influential lead beyond the point of planning and delivery.