I was recently at the opening of the Mark Group’s ECO House at the University of Nottingham. The house is the latest of seven energy-efficient homes built on the university campus to research the design, construction and performance-in-use of low energy homes. All the houses are situated along the appropriately name Green Close.
The opening of the Mark Group ECO house was timely. Rising energy costs are driving demand for more energy efficient homes. This weeks announcement by energy company British Gas that it will be increasing energy prices by over 10% follows last week’s 8.2% increase from energy company SSE. Other energy suppliers are expected to announce similar price increases in the coming weeks. These steep increases in energy prices will, without doubt, focus customers’ attention on ways of reducing their energy usage.
In addition to saving occupants money, improving the energy efficiency of homes is good for the environment. Housing is responsible for 27% of the UK’s carbon emissions. The Government has committed the UK to reducing its carbon emissions by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. If this target is to be met, both new and existing homes will have to be significantly more energy efficient.
The most effective way of helping home owners save money, do their bit for the environment and, ultimately, to live more comfortably, is to install energy-saving and even energy generating products.
But which products offer home owners the biggest bang for their buck? The answer is not as straight forward as it might first appear. Manufacturers often make performance claims for their products based on tests carried out in perfect laboratory conditions. In reality the situation is far more complicated; often homes are fitted with several different energy saving measures that need to work both individually and collectively to produce an energy efficient solution.
No amount of laboratory testing, however, can account for the way people use their homes. The problem is people do not always use energy efficient products in the way the manufacturer intended. Take the example of low energy light bulbs: when these were first introduced they took so long to reach full brightness that people left them switched on for far longer than they would have done if a ‘normal’ bulb had been fitted. this is where my visit to the University of Nottingham becomes relevant.
The Mark Group ECO house is a three-story, four bedroom home. It has been constructed as a retrofit project to demonstrate the potential impact of fitting energy efficiency measures and technologies to the social housing sector. Twelve energy efficiency technologies have been installed. These include: phase change materials incorporated into plasterboard, external wall insulation, solar thermal, rainwater harvesting, heat recovery ventilation and an air source heat pump. The building includes a sophisticated monitoring and control system to gather performance data from the products in use.
The real value of this project is that the dwellings on Green Close are living laboratories, used by the University to investigate the link between occupant behaviour and energy consumption. To enable this to happen, students and families live in houses so that their interaction with the homes and energy saving technologies can be studied and monitored. This provides much more realistic performance data for the innovative technologies installed in the dwellings.
It is only by developing and monitoring homes in use that we can educate designers and specifiers in the effective use and application of how low energy technologies. it is important work if we are to reduce carbon emissions to a level that will help mitigate global warming. Equally importantly, these low energy solutions will benefit society by establishing solutions that will help reduce the number of people in fuel poverty. I look forward to finding out whether the technologies installed in the Mark Group’s ECO house will help contribute to this solution.