Low Carbon Homes – BRE’s Innovation Park

29 September 2008

Low Carbon Homes – BRE’s Innovation Park

In October Prince Charles will inaugurate the building of a seventh exhibition home at the Building Research Institute’s Innovation Park near Watford.  Six Eco-friendly designs have to test whether energy  saving devices and passive houses really work have already been built on the site. The houses are complete in every way – as if people were already living in them, fully furnished, with bedlinen and towels – as if the occupants had just left for work and school.  Visitors can look at the innovative technology behind the various designs.  The drive for low-carbon homes comes partly from new regulations the government is phasing in:  the Code for Sustainable Homes will enforce increasingly stringent rules on house builders so that by 2016 a new house must reach the highest level of compliance and be “carbon zero”: it will have no net carbon emissions over the cycle of one year.  The BRE’s Innovation Park is a test-bed for practical new buildings that comply with the code.

The homes include:

The Organics House by ecoTech - demonstrates a flexible system of sustainable homes that can be both mass-produced and designed to suit individual circumstances.

The Hanson EcoHouse - constructed using traditional building materials, precisely assembled to conform to the best principles of innovative methods of construction.

The Kingspan Lighthouse - has achieved the highest level of the Government's Code for Sustainable Homes.

The Osborne House – which was the first of the buildings here, being was completed in July 2006 and formally opened by the Housing Minister.

Two houses by Stewart Milne Sigma are side-by-side: one has the technology hidden, as it would be in a “production” house, the other revealing it so that you can see that the grey water flushes the toilets, the multiple layers of insulation in floor and roof.  Rainwater harvesting is used to water the garden.
Barratt - one of the largest builders in the UK housing market  - also has a house on the site.  It has been investing in several test houses in association with Manchester University. At BRE it has an award-winning three-bedroom house.  Solar thermal panels supply hot water, automatic window shutters prevent overheating, rainwater harvesting provides water to flush toilets (usually a third of water usage). Extensive testing is being carried out, and the results will be used to build greener homes in future. The government has plans for a new skein of eco-towns.  Barratt is expected to be one of the main builders involved in this project.  If the designs are successful, the economies of scale involved would bring down the costs of the equipment, thus making green homes affordable for the average person.
Other buildings on the carefully-landscaped site, all of which have environmentally benign footprints include the Visitor’s Centre itself,  and The Re-thinking School – which showcases the design and construction of an inspirational learning environment with outstanding sustainability credentials.
ZEDfactory, the architects of BedZED, the UK’s firsts zero carbon residential community, have recently launched a complete, packaged zero carbon kit home called ruralZED.  It’s a flexible, laminated timber frame, but incorporates super-insulation and thermal mass as standard. Designed to be moderately priced and swiftly assembled on site, a typical ruralZED house can be built in three to five weeks, compared to 5-7 months for conventional houses.

Website: www.bre.co.uk/innovationpark

Images: copyright BRE's Peter White


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