BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 02 Apr '15

Our next homes could be manufactured on off-site production lines – and cost 90% less to heat and power

Many of us can’t afford to get on the property ladder: according to Shelter, house prices are now over 10 times the average salary. We’re not building enough affordable housing and the homes we do have can cost a small fortune to live in – energy prices keep going up and, with around 30% of the UK’s total power consumption used in domestic properties, so do our bills.

In short, the UK housing market is fraught with challenges that affect us all. ‘As a mum of three, I know how important it is to manage a family budget – after all, we all want our money to go further and get more for less’, says Christine Hynes, CEO of Climate Energy Homes.

If we want commercially viable homes that are fit for purpose and flexible enough to meet both future needs and current requirements, we will need to rethink how we build them.

Homes of the future

climate-energy-homes-2Climate Energy Homes is rising to the challenge: determined to become a catalyst for change in the way we build homes in the UK, the company has worked with partners in Sweden and Austria and joined forces with developers, landowners, contractors, local authorities, registered providers and private landlords all over the UK. The goal is to lead a revolution that ensures the homes we build for the future are stylish, energy efficient and affordable.

‘We believe that everyone has the right to live in a well-designed, well-built and well-insulated healthy lifestyle home that doesn’t cost the Earth to heat and power – a home that actually reduces the cost of everyday living’, Christine explains. As a solution, she has designed two BOPAS-accredited ecoTECH Build Systems – Fabric First and Passivhaus – that provide warmer and more efficient buildings that benefit individuals, communities, the environment and the economy – and that cost less than 14p per day to heat.

A magic bullet?

‘Our highly engineered ecoTECH Build Systems have changed the way we can deliver housing in the UK. They’re made in factories to a higher quality and structural tolerance, providing the energy-efficient, healthy homes we need’, Christine says. ‘Commercially, these new methods are known as ‘MMC’.’ These ‘Modern Methods of Construction’ use highly engineered processes – very similar to those used in the car manufacturing industry – to deliver energy-efficient homes and buildings that cost up to 90% less to heat.

‘The designs are highly flexible so homes can be built to meet all types of existing local vernacular, such as the height and architectural style of surrounding buildings’, Christine says. Costs are reduced because construction takes place in a factory-controlled environment, where panels and hybrid homes are manufactured and rigorously checked for quality before they’re sent to the site. The sheer speed of the build also helps keep costs down: a house can be built in just one day.

Sustainable communities

Climate Energy Homes’ ecoTECH Fabric First and Passivhaus Build Systems were created in response to the challenges facing the UK’s housing market and construction industry. Everything that goes into each of the integrated build systems, which can be used for residential or commercial properties, is selected according to the lifetime use of each building.

‘We are committed to creating sustainable communities, supporting local supply chains, using the local labour force and collaborating with local colleges to provide ongoing apprenticeships and mentoring programmes’, Christine told us.

Climate Energy Homes has already built a development of 51 homes in Rainham, London, using the ecoTECH Build System. ‘Passive Close’ – believed to be the UK’s largest all-affordable Passivhaus scheme – was built on behalf of Circle Housing and Old Ford Housing Association, and was specifically designed to achieve Passivhaus certification and Level 4 of the Code for Sustainable Homes.

The Living Laboratory

Climate Energy Homes has also been involved in a project to create a ‘Living Laboratory’ for the Institute for Sustainability. The unique facility on the London Sustainable Industries Park (London SIP) – the land for which was provided by the Greater London Authority – looks and behaves like a residential property and, following its launch this spring, can be used to test how consumers interact with innovations in energy and water
efficiency.

Climate Energy Homes supplied and built the modular three-storey home for the Living Laboratory. Appliance manufacturers, designers and utilities and technology companies will use information gathered from tests in the house to design and develop future control systems that meet everyday user requirements.

As global demand for resources increases, it’s becoming even more important to find alternative ways to understand and reduce consumption. While technology plays an important role, if occupants aren’t engaged with it or struggle to use it – or if the information it provides isn’t accurate and reliable – potential savings will not be realised.

‘We know that no matter how successfully technologies work in isolation, people’s behaviour and engagement is critical to real and sustained efficiencies and environmental improvement’, said Ian Short, the Institute for Sustainability’s chief executive. ‘Facilities like the Living Laboratory provide a rare opportunity to co-create, design and test new products in a real home setting.’

A wider, EU-funded project (‘SusLabNWE’) will establish a network of Living Laboratories for similar research; pilots are taking place in Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden as well as in the UK.

Cradle to cradle

The Living Laboratory on the London SIP is one of two key projects from the Institute for Sustainability; the other – on the same site – is the UK’s first cross-business ‘cradle to cradle’ demonstrator, built and operated by the University of East London. The demonstrator will help businesses on the London SIP to find synergies between their production processes. By working together, they will be able to create additional value from waste or by-products that would otherwise be down-cycled, sent to landfill or discharged back into the environment.

Initially, products from the on-site food grade plastics recycling company, gasification plant and anaerobic digestion plant will be used to produce materials that can replace gravel in pathways and green roofs. Part of the ‘C2CBIZZ’ project, the demonstrator will in future also take harmful and environmentally damaging ‘waste’ products and create safe, stable materials that can be used for a range of purposes.

‘While there has been increasing focus on circular economy and industrial symbiosis approaches in recent years, the demonstrator at the London SIP is one of the few real examples of how the theory could be applied in practice – and one of the first that links resources from different businesses rather than from one organisation’s processes’, explained Ian Short. ‘The completion of the demonstrator build is an important first step in addressing the complexity of multiple businesses feeding into a cradle to cradle process; it explores options for how this could be replicated elsewhere and brought to the mainstream.’

Both the SusLabNWE and C2CBIZZ projects are part of the Interreg NWE IVB programme, co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund.

Off-site construction

For Climate Energy Homes and the Institute for Sustainability, the London SIP clearly demonstrates that affordable and energy-efficient housing is a very real possibility, and that the tools are available to build homes that meet current and future requirements.

The use of off -site construction methods may initially sound far-fetched, but it’s being supported by BuildOff site, an organisation that was set up with government support 10 years ago. BuildOff site’s role is to promote the case – business, project and environmental – for using off-site construction methods in all parts of the UK construction market – including the delivery of new homes.

The overall goal for BuildOff site is to promote an improved understanding of how, through the use of off -site construction methods, leading-edge organisations are simplifying their supply chains, improving speed of construction and on-site productivity, minimising waste and delivering assets with ‘right first time’ quality and predictable costs in use – all of which provide comfort and security to the homeowner.

To underpin this initiative, the BuildOff site Property Assurance Scheme (BOPAS) was launched in March 2013. Its main purpose was to provide access to a database so that mortgage lenders and valuers could check whether a property had been built using a BOPAS-assessed Modern Method of Construction. If so, they’d be assured that the construction would meet the lender’s 60-year durability requirements – which covers the equivalent of two mortgage terms – and that the building shouldn’t require any disproportionate maintenance over that time.

Meeting homeowners’ needs

Climate Energy Homes’ ecoTECH Fabric First Build and Passivhaus Build Systems have both received BuildOff site Property Assurance Scheme (BOPAS) accreditation. ‘The ability to take homes apart for reconfiguration or for performance or functional upgrade is where the UK house-building industry needs to be if it is to become more sustainable and off er customers better choices’, said Ian Pannell of BuildOff site. ‘This ability is dependent on a shift in construction practice that allows for homes and other structures to be assembled from precision-made components, which in turn provides for eventual disassembly to meet changing needs.’

The house Climate Energy Homes built for the London SIP Living Laboratory was a recycled residential building, which Ian says was a ‘cutting-edge approach’. ‘It is a truly impressive achievement that the Living Laboratory development was first constructed at the Building Research Establishment’s Garston Innovation Park in 2007’, Ian said. ‘It was then dismantled in 2012, put into storage and then reconstructed here at the London SIP. The reconstruction, including upgrading to meet current technical and customer requirements, was achieved in just 20 days.’

Ian applauded Climate Energy Homes for its intelligent approach and said he was ‘delighted that the development has achieved the BOPAS accreditation of quality.’ As well as offering flexible designs that fit in with local landscapes and energy savings for those who live there, the accreditation also shows these homes for the future are built to last.

Click here to find out more about the Institute for Sustainability and its projects. More information on Climate Energy Homes can be found here