After calling on the government to be more ambitious in its new-build energy targets earlier this year, Hastoe Housing Association‘s director of Development, Ulrike Maccariello, explains just what can happen when big ambitions are realised
Why did Hastoe recently call on the government to set more ambitious energy targets for new-builds?
We’ve urged the government to go further in addressing demand reduction through increased efficiency in new, affordable homes, particularly in terms of fabric energy-efficiency, air tightness, and ventilation.
Failure to take this opportunity would mean fuel bills are likely to remain high for many residents of new affordable housing, while at the same time risking less comfortable and less healthy homes.
Our experience has shown that reducing energy demand while maintaining comfort is key to tackling these issues. It is great that the grid is decarbonising rapidly, contributing to our carbon reduction targets, but we should not let that blind us to underlying inefficiencies in housing developments.
This is why we urged the government to be more ambitious in adoption of fabric energy efficiency targets, air tightness, and ventilation approaches for new-build homes. The sooner these become mandatory, the sooner the costs will decrease and as a sector we can all proceed to deliver more and better homes.
What is the Hastoe New-Build Standard?
Hastoe has been promoting and building sustainable and innovative homes for many decades, and while we are still committed to delivering one Passivhaus scheme per year, there’s often a premium to pay to ensure contractors manage to achieve the required standard.
That’s why we decided to develop our own New-Build Standard to help us strike a balance between delivering energy-efficient, affordable homes, and the financial viability of doing so.
The Hastoe New-Build Standard sets minimum build requirements for its new homes and covers eight key elements alongside energy-efficiency, beautiful design, and sustainability.
What can you tell us about your first Passivhaus development in Essex?
When we investigated the Passivhaus model over a decade ago, we realised that it not only delivered highly energy-efficient and comfortable homes, it also provided a great degree of certainty that these dwellings performed as intended. We completed our first rural Passivhaus scheme in Wimbish in Essex in 2011. We were the first rural housing association in the UK to do so.
Passivhaus is a highly energy-efficient building technique that uses ‘passive’ heat sources such as the sun, human occupants, and household appliances to cut energy bills by up to 90% per year.
Passivhaus also delivers a high comfort standard and allows better use of internal space due to reduced radiators. Even though residents were sceptical when they moved into their new houses without radiators, they soon discovered that their homes were warm and comfortable. And when they received their first gas bills, which were a fraction of what they were used to, they were quickly won over.
We carried out Building Performance Evaluation, which has given us a lot of confidence that the standard works. As part of that evaluation, we received feedback from residents, which was on the whole very positive.
It was a steep learning curve, and of course there were things we could have done better. But we made sure we took the lessons learnt on board and applied them to subsequent schemes.
What can you tell us about your Sharnbrook development, one of your more recent Passivhaus schemes?
Adding 13 Passivhaus homes to the medieval village of Sharnbrook, Bedfordshire, in 2018 brought it right up to date with these ultra, energy-efficient homes. As with all Hastoe developments, they were also built with the local vernacular very much in mind, so that they complemented the village. We always want local communities – both residents and local people – to be proud of the places we build in their villages.
Ahead of work commencing on the Hastoe scheme back in 2016, archaeologists discovered some human bones of what were thought to be three individuals from the Roman period. They were found with fragments of pottery and other artefacts.
Once they’d been processed, checked, and listed by all the relevant authorities, work began in earnest on the development of the Passivhaus homes. Nine were reserved for affordable rents or shared ownership for people who lived or worked in the local area.
The development was based around a local housing needs survey, which identified a requirement for more affordable homes in the Sharnbrook Parish for local people. At the time, house prices in Bedford Borough were estimated at 8.5 times average earnings.
Homes England provided £98,500 to help build the new homes, while Bedford Borough Council contributed £67,650 to allow the development to go ahead.
How are you futureproofing your homes in regard to sustainability?
Our Hastoe New-Build Standard makes a commitment to always exceed the building regulation standard. The energy efficiency part is based on traditional, fabric-first construction that reduces the energy demand of homes.
We have also taken the decision to switch away from gas now in our new homes and provide all our space heating and hot water through air source heat pumps (ASHP).
Modelling based on the Beta version of SAP 10.2 indicates that our detailed specification, combined with ASHP, will exceed the anticipated 2021 regulations significantly and bring us very close to the indicative 2025 Future Homes Standard.
This gives us confidence that our own New-Build Standard will provide the desired stepping-stone on our zero-carbon journey. We are futureproofing our developments now, avoiding substantial additional investment in future years.
What developments do you have lined up for the future? How do you plan to make them sustainable?
Our intention is to develop the majority of our developments to the Hastoe New-Build Standard, with the exception of S106 planning obligation schemes.
In addition to the energy efficiency of our schemes, we also look at the environmental impact. We carry out ecology assessments for all our scheme and engage a landscape architect as part of the design team.
Our aim is to create places that promote health and wellbeing. We include bird, bee, and bat boxes into the scheme design and provide a fruit tree to each to each garden.
So far, we’ve provided over 1,000 fruit trees to new homes – and they go to making up what we call our virtual Hastoe Orchard.
How do you imbed sustainability into the areas surrounding your new-builds?
The majority of our developments are brought forward through the Rural Exception Site Policy, which means they are tailored to the need of a particular community. The majority of our homes will be affordable in perpetuity and meet the identified local need. Without affordable housing, many villages could go into decline.
The impact of this can be twofold:
Economic impact – Local jobs are often lower paid and are best catered for by local people as long commutes would not be viable. Many villages have become commuting villages, which result in lower use of local amenities and rural services such as shops, pubs, schools, and post offices. These then are in danger of disappearing.
Social impact – The local support network is really important in rural areas as there are generally fewer services available.
Another aspect of the work we’ve been doing on the New-Build Standard has been developing the Hastoe Design Guidance. This guidance brings together the wealth of Hastoe knowledge and experience with a clear and consistent approach to ways of working going forward. It means our design partners will know what we expect from them and what they can expect from us.
How do you deliver energy-efficient homes while keeping costs at a manageable level?
We want to deliver a high-quality product that delivers value for money. We started with looking into the design process and developed a standalone design guide that sets out what we expect from our consultants and provides consistent advice to them. We have built-in processes that ensure that Hastoe gains greater control and understands and signs-off design implications throughout that process.
The energy-efficiency approach is based on standards that are known to contractors and can be delivered through readily available components. We want to avoid non-standard materials and elements that would be a higher risk for the contractor.
But high quality, long lasting, and easy-to-repair-and-replace components are also the right investment for us as a landlord, as they will reduce maintenance costs long-term.
We also invest into quality control throughout the process.
How do you get residents engaged in your sustainability push?
A lot of the efforts we put into the sustainability of our homes won’t be immediately obvious to residents when they move in. Fabric-first building techniques, efficient form factors, the elimination of thermal bridges, and the consideration of passive solar gains won’t be something they will be aware of.
However, where we include an MVHR (mechanical ventilation and heat recovery) system in our new-builds, residents receive a visit a month or so after they’ve moved into their home to give them a more in-depth understanding of the system and how to get the best from it and keep their energy bills low. All our Passivhaus homes residents will receive this visit.
The way we design our schemes also encourages lower-carbon lifestyles, with safe walking routes to a village centre from a scheme and promoting the use of public transport where possible. And we aim to include more electric charging points in our schemes – or the potential to install them in the future.
All our Hastoe new-builds also have a garden. This gives residents the chance to enjoy the outdoors in their own private space and to get planting if they want to.
Main image: Hastoe residents in Holne, Devon, enjoy their gifted fruit tree in their new home. Credit: Phil Mingo/Pinnacle
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