Future proofing Build to Rent

Doing more than the minimum now seems like good business sense, and more importantly, helps us to better address climate change.

Blue photovoltaic solar panels mounted on building roof, part of future proofing Build to Rent and helping to better address climate change - PRP | BTR News

We are living in uncertain times. Our political landscape is in upheaval. Our relationships with our neighbours are fractious and unsettled. A war thousands of miles away is deeply affecting our household economies and the cost of running a business. Even our weather, the traditional unfailing mainstay of British-ness, is riddled with hose pipe bans, floods and fallen trees. In business, uncertainty can often present opportunity and innovation, however when one’s model is predicated on stability how does one legislate for future disruption.

By Craig Sheach, Partner at PRP

Build to Rent is a long-term business. Housebuilders build and sell, Build to Rent investors build and hold. And this is the crux of the matter. How does one design a building to protect and respond to future uncertainty and be relevant now, and of course to be affordable to justify building it in the first instance.

According to the government’s own energy review in 2021, over 40% of our energy comes from politically or socially dubious places and only circa 21% comes from renewables. This tells us that the future will continue to look uncertain for the coming years and so for Build to Rent, with its decades of exposure and all-encompassing rent, this represents a real issue now. And not just in relation to energy security. With climate change affecting our environment in increasingly unpredictable ways, water security is also becoming important.

Both are reflected in the Build to Rent service charges and rental costs that renters and leaseholders pay. A future energy spike, like the one we have now, could potentially result in an increase in rent. Water shortages could mean higher maintenance costs.

How can these challenges be mitigated? It is difficult to predict what might be coming but this summer’s arid weeks gives us pointers in future proofing for environmental and energy fluctuations. Designing Build to Rent buildings with higher than minimum insulation values with products that don’t degrade, greater air tightness, and better intelligence on how to use thermal mass to keep energy usage down alongside a strategy which provides energy independence to insulate against short term blackouts. Provision of solar panels, batteries and onsite air and ground source heat pumps provide some buffering from global events and their impacts to communal power sources.

Intelligence needs to further extend. Designing the fabric of a Build to Rent building to be able to screen solar gain and to shed excess heat at night, without relying heavily on active mechanical means keeps residents comfortable and content during hot summers and reduces the energy load. Taking grey water harvesting seriously as a development benefit, rather than an environmental tick box exercise, will reduce water bills and keep critical landscaped amenity looking lush through dry times. Trees will survive. Providing planting, not acres of monoculture lawns, that requires less water, provides more biodiversity and looks good, even out of season, through winter months will further reduce water demand and maintenance. 

Making sure that everything built is long lasting, durable, and easy to maintain and replaceable will keep Build to Rent buildings performing well and looking good for longer, reducing maintenance regimes and improving on circular economy principles.

There is nothing new here, or revolutionary. It’s all things we’ve heard about for years. And I suppose that’s the issue. We’ve spent the last decade doing the minimum to get the credits now – and yet we still have a tendency to think that we have done our bit, that it will also be enough for the future. Given the likely upheaval to our way of life in the decades to come, doing more than the minimum now seems like good business sense, and more importantly, it helps us to better address climate change.