‘Impossible’ zero carbon home designed

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Designers at Cardiff University have proven the Chancellor wrong after constructing an affordable zero carbon home…

It has been a bad week for the zero carbon sector. Last week the government announced it will not proceed with the zero carbon Allowable Solutions carbon offsetting scheme or the proposed 2016 increase in on-site energy efficiency standards, which caused a furore among the industry.

The news came despite promises from the government that zero carbon homes remained one of their commitments. However, the government defended its u-turn, stating it was simply not cost effective to continue with zero carbon homes investment, despite firms spending millions developing the field.

Now, Cardiff University has proven just how wrong this statement is.

Designers at the university constructed a property that not only exports more power to the grid than it uses, but also fell within the normal budget limits for social housing. The act not only proves how feasible zero carbon homes are, but how they can benefit society by giving back to the grid.

The parameters for building social housing means each square metre of space must cost between £800 and £1,000 to construct. The designers managed to build the property at the top end of that range, coming in at £1,000 per square metre. Additionally, the house only took 16 weeks to erect, proving it is not only possible, but also viable to build zero carbon homes.

So how did the designers achieve this supposedly impossible feat?

The main reason is the efficient nature of how it was constructed. The property has insulated render on the outside, which prevents heat from escaping and driving up the cost of heating the property in the colder months.

The heating system utilises the most natural resource available: the sun. While this does mean energy would need to be imported in the winter, the designers said this would be more than offset by the energy exports during the summer.

The home also has glazed solar photovoltaic (PV) panels fitted to the roof, facing south to ensure maximum exposure to the sun. This also enabled the space below to be naturally lit and reduced the cost of bolting on solar panels to a standard roof.

The combination heating, ventilation, hot water system, and electrical power system are all run via solar generation and battery storage. Additionally, the home utilises LED lighting to ensure efficiency in keeping the property illuminated.

Lead on the project Professor Phil Jones said: “Using the latest technology, innovation and design, it is indeed possible to build a zero carbon house at low costs, creating long-term benefits for both the economy and the environment.

“The cost of our carbon-positive house was similar to that of the social housing benchmark, making it an affordable option for house builders. We hope that this can be replicated in other areas.”

The home will be closely scrutinised to ensure it performs as well when inhabited, as often performance suffers when trialled in a real life setting. However, to all intents and purposes this new research shows it is possible to achieve the seemingly impossible and that zero carbon homes should be the future of new home building.

The challenge of retrofitting the UK’s existing housing stock is, and remains, a more difficult problem to overcome. Currently, homes in the UK are among some of the least efficient in Europe. However, this must feel like a vindication and a victory for the sector after last week’s news.

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