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Barriers to Low and Zero carbon homes

The following section highlights some of the key barriers to the diffusion of LZC new build and retrofit in the UK. Although many of the issues are fairly consistent between both new build and retrofit, where  innovation and adoption faces similar barriers, there are a number of areas where the challenges diverge. These barriers are associated with concerns over the economic benefits, technical challenges and shortfalls and the cultural and behaviour attitudes that may inhibit the transition to a predominantly low energy building regime.

  1. New build

The following section will provide a brief summary of some of the key barriers and challenges that are associated with the diffusion and adoption of new low and zero carbon housing, with reference to the current policy landscape. Whilst many of the methods and technological solutions adopted are similar in both the new build and retrofit contexts, some of the modes and methods of delivery along with the associated incentive schemes and government interventions differ considerably.

  1. Cultural/behavioural barriers and issues

An important barrier to the diffusion and success of innovations in the low carbon building industry, is dependant to a large extent on how well technologies and systems are deployed. In consequence this affects how they are perceived by both users and installers. Many of these issues of perception and attitude are described previously.

Early adopter issues can play into a negative perception of novel technologies among house buyers, and reinforce their selection of more conventional solutions and technologies. Heffernan et al. (2015) describe how of greater concern to many industry survey respondents, was the lack of skills and knowledge from occupants rather than those from within the industry.

Osmani and O’Reilly (2009) highlight how the issues surrounding perceived technical and design barriers are intimately linked to the cultural and heuristic behaviour of actors within the industry itself. Whereby traditional attitudes have restricted the uptake of innovations and inform advice that is given by industry professionals (Owen et al., 2014).

Heffernan et al. (2015)interviewed a broader range of stakeholders, beyond the ‘housebuildrers’ interviewed by Osmani and O’Reilly (2009)They highlight how many potential homebuyers also have negative perceptions of the housebuilding sector, citing a lack of diversity and choice, and its primary interest in maintaining market dominance (Heffernan et al., 2015). The study also highlights an enthusiasm for the self-build dominated models that are popular in Europe, where housing is ‘seen as an object of choice and engagement rather than a market’.

Both Heffernan et al (2015) and earlier studies identify a strong resistance to change in the design and production systems for new housing, and therefore that the incentives to change need to be equally powerful, to overcome this risk aversion.

Part of this conservatism also stems from a concern over certainty in the policy regime, which supports and requires the industry to act. This attitude has been borne out by the numerous changes surrounding the zero carbon legislation), and the subsequent scrapping of the CfSH and zero carbon targets, with no obvious successor, as outlined in this paper. It is clear that consistent, strategic and supportive government policy is crucial in delivering confidence within the industry


HEFFERNAN, E., PAN, W., LIANG, X. & DE WILDE, P. 2015. Zero carbon homes: Perceptions from the UK construction industry. Energy Policy, 79, 23-36.

OSMANI, M. & O’REILLY, A. 2009. Feasibility of zero carbon homes in England by 2016: A house builder’s perspective. Building and Environment, 44, 1917-1924.

OWEN, A., MITCHELL, G. & GOULDSON, A. 2014. Unseen influence—The role of low carbon retrofit advisers and installers in the adoption and use of domestic energy technology. Energy Policy, 73, 169-179.

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