Broadland District Council’s Growing Green Homes project was established to complement the development of the Rackheath Eco-community and expand knowledge of the opportunities through a selection of whole house retrofits.
The UK typically has cold inefficient homes that are the cause of high rates of fuel poverty and excess winter deaths. Broadland identified some years ago that this is particularly true in Norfolk where many homes are “off grid”. Occupants unable or unwilling to heat homes create damp and condensation problems that cause long-term extra costs for owners and huge social costs for themselves and for the health-care system. It seemed to Broadland that with the rising cost of energy it was very likely that things would get worse and this was one of the drivers for working with DCLG in 2009 to achieve successful funding for the Rackheath Eco Community and the new Rackheath Eco Town project.
Broadland realised that unless there was a transformation in the way that new homes are built and existing ones made more energy efficient, there would be no end in sight to the spiral of fuel poverty, poor health, and high energy bills. There seemed no clear pathway for improvement unless changes in methods and practices were implemented – a change that Broadland could help facilitate through Rackheath and other programmes.
Demonstration refits were undertaken across eight properties dating from the 1950s to the 1990s including houses and bungalows to three different standards – Green Deal, Green Deal ‘Plus’ and EnerPhit. The project was required to achieve an average carbon reduction of 60% and ascertain the best return on investment vs carbon reduction for each home. Baseline ‘energy activity’ was measured at the outset including a SAP R4TF assessment, actual energy use monitoring, lifestyle interviews, thermographic imaging and airtightness tests. This drove the retrofit thinking towards a ‘fabric first’ approach utilising various external and cavity wall materials of differing dimensions alongside improved glazing and a suite of traditional and renewable technologies to enable an assessment of how they would work in combination. It was also determined that the works were to be undertaken with residents in situ, providing an opportunity to establish practical examples of how we could develop specific skills and mechanisms for large scale application, which is likely to be carried out under similar conditions. This enabled us to define a programme of “joined up contracting” where each of the trades met on several occasions prior to the project start; this formed the basis for the project timetable and a respect for each other’s activity. This was maintained at weekly site meetings during the works stage enabling us to update the programme and address any issues as they occurred. This approach allowed us to overcome some of the traditional issues associated with construction although the project still had material supply and utility provider challenges.
BSRIA started the post works monitoring in December and interviews with the residents during these initial months have indicated improved warmth and air quality (where MVHR has been used) and less energy used. The monitoring will continue for a year and will form part of a full project review to be released in spring 2015.
Government calls for a massive increase in the rate of new home building and retrofit of existing buildings are well intentioned, but if practices do not change the existing legacy of poor quality homes that are unhealthy to live in and expensive to heat will be locked in for generations but on an even larger scale than today. Unfortunately there is a continuing energy performance gap for new and retrofit homes. The reasons are the same: poor quality of workmanship and or material selection allows air leaks and thermal losses. Poor quality of retrofit leaves many of the original defects untreated in a tick-box approach to work at the lowest possible cost.
As part of Broadland’s partnership with Circle Housing it has already delivered new homes meeting Code for Sustainable Homes Level 6 and plans for the initial 200 home project for the Eco Town are well advanced. These projects and others in the region have demonstrated that there is a way forward where both large scale new build and retrofitted homes can be established to make possible healthy and comfortable living with greatly reduced energy bills. Projects like Growing Green Homes can help us to learn how to manage and initiate larger scale projects to enable a virtuous circle of improvement so that:
- Skills and know-how can become well-established in the supply chain
- Innovation that reduces costs can be enabled
- The investment community can understand the benefits of low energy housing
- These benefits become reflected in asset valuations
To contact BSRIA about our work monitoring homes, contact: email@example.com. The project will run until April 2015 so visit Broadland District Councils website to follow the project and join in the learning.