News

"Post-Facebook" ideas needed for housebuilding, says report

8 October 2013

Next generation BIM and smart phone apps should be designed to help consumers custom design their homes and gain easy access to energy performance, lighting and space information, the latest report from The Housing Forum reveals.

The interactive online report, Housing for the Information Age, was prepared by a collaborative working group comprising designers, clients, manufacturers, IT specialists and builders and has been published to coincide with the Housing Standards Review consultation instigated by DCLG, due to close later this month.

It concludes that today’s “post-Facebook” digital technology should be harnessed by the housebuilding industry to make information more consumer friendly and to better inform individuals before making house purchasing decisions, which in turn could drive energy efficiency and improve space standards.

The Housing Forum recommends that housebuilders, designers and suppliers harness BIM technology to make it easier and less costly to give consumers more choice over layouts and finishes, as well as provide a tool to allow them to visualise different options and understand running costs.

"Ultimately we want to make sure the public is able to understand many things the professional industry takes for granted, such as housing metrics, dimensions and descriptions. Unless people are informed they can't really make the best choices."

Shelagh Grant, The Housing Forum

“We have five or six demonstration projects in which we are tracking how BIM can be used by consumers,” said Shelagh Grant, chief executive of The Housing Forum. “A major advantage is it can help people to understand a building layout in three dimensions, as well as the layout of piping and wiring not visible on conventional plans. BIM can enable custom design for individuals with mobility needs wanting to rearrange the placement of electronics or other gadgetry, the technology also has great potential for custom build projects, or designing retirement housing where individuals have very different needs.”

The report also recommends the development of digital apps, using information found in existing Energy Performance Certificates, that would help consumers quickly calculate the heating and lighting costs of prospective new or existing homes. Apps could also be designed to help compare the sizes of homes or individual rooms, or even whole-life costs in use, The Housing Forum argues.

“Ultimately we want to make sure the public is able to understand many things the professional industry takes for granted, such as housing metrics, dimensions and descriptions. Unless people are informed they can’t really make the best choices,” Grant added.

Housing for the Information Age says government, housebuilders and estate agents must also work together to introduce “Home Performance Labels” on all home-selling material that would detail property size in square metres, not just the number of rooms as per the current standard, and energy performance in a standard, at-a-glance format.

The report states: “All the information is already available, as it is obtained for issuing EPC certificates so would not require extra information gathering. We are confident that consumer friendly Home Performance Labels would drive more generous space standards in new homes, which are sometimes perceived as cramped and boxy.”

Energy performance would be listed in terms of fabric efficiency (kWh/m2/yr) and/or energy demand target (kWh/m2/yr). Later on, Home Performance Labels could be expanded to include accessibility (general, mobility, wheelchair) and water efficiency, The Housing Forum argues.