Modern building standards are set to leave a legacy of high bills and potential poor health according to a new report from the University of East Anglia.
Above: New passivhaus homes at Wimbish Green in Essex by Hastoe Housing Association. Credit: Mark Baigent
Published today by UEA’s Adapt Low Carbon Group
, the ‘Delivering a low-energy building
’ report reveals that energy bills for new homes are likely to be higher than anticipated and that occupant health may suffer from poor indoor air quality.
It shows that today’s quality standards for construction could leave the country unable to meet climate change targets, and makes recommendations for radical changes in construction practice.
The report’s author, Adapt associate Dr Bruce Tofield, said: “There is huge concern everywhere about the lack of investment in housing and the housing shortage. But this report highlights another housing crisis which is less visible today but could be equally damaging over time.
“Building as we do today could create a disastrous legacy spanning many decades of higher bills, poorer health, and the country unable to meet climate change targets.
“The good news is that both housing crises can be solved with great benefit both to individuals and to the economy. We need to build new homes – but we also need to do it right.”
The report is the result of a four-year study of building performance in Sweden, Germany, the UK, and elsewhere in Europe as part of Build with CaRe
- a European programme promoting energy-efficient buildings.
‘Delivering a low-energy building’ recommends building ultra-low energy, ‘passivhaus’ buildings that require up to 90 per cent less energy for heating and cooling. As well as saving money in the long term, setting passivhaus standards would accelerate innovation, skill formation and competitiveness.
Studies over the last 20 years have shown a worrying energy performance gap – where buildings are consistently found to use more heating energy than designers had predicted and Energy Performance Certificates indicate.
According to the research, the principal cause of this gap is the traditional construction model where poor teamwork across design and construction processes leads to defects that compromise energy performance.
Dr Tofield said: “Building to the passivhaus quality standard is the route to better homes, lower bills, and better returns. Far-sighted developers now realise that this is more cost-effective because maintenance will cost less, prices will be stronger, and rental streams better protected.”
Today’s findings come hot on the heels of the Montague report – which called for large-scale building of private housing for the rental market.
“Exactly the same principles apply for private rental as for social housing,” said Dr Tofield. “Investors, politicians and developers must ensure most new homes in the UK are built passive - for better homes, lower bills and better returns.”
The research details how low-energy buildings can be delivered, often at no extra cost. It also shows how other industries have created the necessary quality processes, and highlights the financial benefits that result from the higher productivity of people working in low-energy buildings.
Further economic benefits will include a high performance and competitive construction industry, internationally competitive supply chains, and the elimination of fuel poverty.
The report highlights best practice examples including UEA’s own Elizabeth Fry Building, which opened in 1995, and Broadland Housing Group in Norwich, which is embarking on the UK’s largest passivhaus project.
CASE STUDY 1: Broadland Housing Group – a passive housing scheme
Broadland Housing Group
was formed in 1963 by a group of local business people who were committed to providing more affordable housing in Norwich. Today, it is one of the largest traditional housing associations in Norfolk and Suffolk, providing over 4,600 homes across the region.
It has taken on passivhaus standards to build energy-efficient homes that will provide high-quality, cost-effective environments for tenants. The group is using private investment to embark on the UK’s largest passivhaus project to build more than 200 apartments in Norwich, close to the Carrow Road football stadium.
Andrew Savage, executive director for business growth at Broadland Housing Group, said: “Broadland Housing Group sees passivhaus construction as not just the right way forward environmentally, but economically too.
“Reduced maintenance and more reliable income streams make this the sensible way to help solve Britain’s housing crisis. All housing associations, private rental developers and savvy investors should now be thinking passive as Broadland is.”
CASE STUDY 2: Norwich Research Park (NRP) Enterprise Centre at UEA - building passive for business
2014 will mark the opening of the NRP Enterprise Centre at UEA - an innovative new building fusing sustainable products and materials to create a space for local businesses and academic activity.
The building is designed to achieve passivhaus and BREEAM Outstanding certification - the highest marks possible for energy performance and sustainability in a building.
The architects, Architype, designed recently-opened passivhaus schools for Wolverhampton City Council that were built at no extra cost and are featured in the ‘Delivering a low-energy building’ report.
The 3700m2 building will be constructed from renewable materials – many of which will be locally sourced including timber from Thetford, and Norfolk straw, chalk and timber.
Once completed, it will host an enterprise centre, teaching and learning rooms, including a 300-seat lecture theatre.
In October 2011, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) awarded the university £6.2m to build the NRP Enterprise Centre. This has been added to funding from UEA, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Building Research Establishment (BRE).
The project is being delivered by main contractor Morgan Sindall and its team, including architects Architype, structural engineers BDP and Churchman Landscape Architects.
Dr John French, chief executive of UEA’s Adapt Low Carbon Group, said: “UEA led the way with high quality, low-energy buildings in the 1990s. We are leading again in 2012 with the new passivhaus NRP Enterprise Centre soon to be built on campus.
The project is designed to be a world-class facility, one that can demonstrate exemplary low carbon performance and act as a good example to people around the world who want to embark on similar projects.
“Once built, the NRP Enterprise Centre will be an example of how the issues of sustainability, carbon footprints and climate change can be addressed in a unique and innovative way.
“And we’re getting the message out by working with hundreds of small businesses and other partners to ensure that passivhaus homes and buildings can become the new standard across the UK,” he added.