One day, all houses will be built this way


Sustainably built, energy-efficient, inexpensive and double-quick to construct: if this is the future of social housing, it looks bright



Social housing tenants could soon be living in state-of-the-art green homes built from natural materials such as clay, hemp and sheep's wool, which are being pioneered as part of Prince Charles' campaign to create beautiful sustainable property.

Building work on The Natural House started in April and is due to be completed this month. With a construction price tag of around £100,000 and fuel bills predicted to be half that of a traditional bricks-and-mortar home, the property is being promoted by the Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment, which is behind the scheme, as a realistic option for social housing. Earlier this year, Prince Charles said: "The Natural House is an attempt to introduce a new model for green building that is site-built, low-carbon and easily adapted for volume building."

Once completed, the house is expected to achieve a four-star rating under the government's Code for Sustainable Homes, the code that ranks properties according to a list of green credentials including energy efficiency, renewable materials and water consumption.

The house takes 12 weeks to build instead of the usual six months for a traditional home, and is one of nine properties being constructed and tested at the Innovation Park in Hertfordshire. Run by the Building Research Establishment (BRE), which is committed to sustainability and innovation in the built environment, the site showcases new developments in green home construction and design.

Houses made from hemp

The Innovation Park is also home to the Renewable House, constructed with Hemcrete - made from hemp grown and harvested in the UK. Its £75,000 construction costs are comparable to a brick house but fuel bills are expected to be a third or a quarter lower. The property, which also has a four-star rating, has been developed by the National Non-Food Crop Centre (NNFCC), which works to introduce renewable fuels and materials into the market. Funded by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the centre had the remit to create a sustainable, affordable house that could become the model of choice for the social housing market and help the government meet its housing target to build 240,000 new homes a year, including social housing, by 2016.

The property, like other prototypes on the park, is now being monitored for the next three years to prove whether it can be a sustainable home. For example, the rooms will be tested for air quality and temperature control and any problems with maintenance and durability will be recorded. NNFCC's polymers and materials manager Dr John Williams says: "We need to look at this, warts and all, and provide the evidence."

Innovators in green homes are targeting social landlords because they are in the vanguard of providing affordable, sustainable homes. Lucy Thornycroft, policy officer at the National Housing Federation, which represents 1,200 not-for-profit housing associations in England, says the sector has always been committed to affordable, environmentally friendly homes that are energy-efficient because it chimes with their social purpose and helps prevent fuel poverty.

Sector-led change

But government policy is also pushing the sector to take the lead. The Code for Sustainable Homes introduced in 2007 was designed to reduce the environmental impact of new housing. It has a one to six-star rating system and each star is linked to nine different categories, such as materials used, with individual targets. A top six-star rating means a home is zero-carbon.

Since 2008, all new social housing has had to have a three-star ranking; from next year that rises to four and by 2015 all new social homes will have to be zero-carbon.

The code is mandatory for social housing and remains voluntary for the private sector until 2016. Grants to social landlords to build new homes are also dependent on them adopting the code.

The National Housing Federation is disappointed that the system is not yet mandatory for private sector housing developers, because it would help to push costs down. Thornycroft says: "As far as housing associations are concerned, environmental sustainability is already mainstream, but achieving code levels four or five can add another £25,000 to £45,000 to a property. If the whole of the building industry was built according to the same standards, it would create a market for new technology and more demand, which would push prices down."

Jenny Walsh, project manager for a 3,500-home association in London, Octavia Housing, agrees. "More than anything we need to focus on what is affordable to tenants, but it also has to be affordable in terms of long-term maintenance."

It is also crucial that the opportunity to develop green technology does not take priority over creating a practical home. Thornycroft says: "As we move to zero-carbon homes it's all about educating people and supporting them to live in these homes properly. It's about balancing new technology with a home that is still a good home to live in."

credentials: referencje, opinie

durability: trwałość

focus on: koncentrować się na

hemp: konopie

maintenance: utrzymanie, konserwacja

mandatory: obowiązujący, obowiązkowy

remit: kompetencje, obowiązki

renewable: odnawialny

showcase: wystawiać, prezentować

sustainability: zgodność z wymogami ochrony środowiska

sustainable: zrównoważony, zgodny z wymogami ochrony środowiska

sustainably: w sposób zgodny z wymogami ochrony środowiska, w sposób zrównoważony

take the lead: objąć prowadzenie

vanguard: awangarda

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