Tuesday 4 September 2012

Housebuilders "Get" Renewables

Solar Showhome - Charles Church development in Wymondham
Image courtesy Viridian Solar

On a new housing development in Norfolk an experiment with far-reaching implications for sustainable building is taking place.  No engineers or technicians are in sight, no measuring equipment or data-loggers.  This innovation is not some new building technology; this innovation is taking place in the sales and marketing suite.

Every living room should have one
Visitors to the site can see a show-home that is fitted not only with the solar heating panel that helps it meet the latest green-building code but also matching solar photovoltaic panels that customers can choose to add as a cost upgrade to their new home.

Meanwhile, on a building site on the outskirts of Cambridge another national housebuilder has constructed a new kind of show home.  Next door to the standard show home, with its impeccably tasteful decor and à la mode furnishings stands the “Eco-enhanced” show home.  The decor in this house is very different, the sitting room is filled with a sample section of a brick wall showing the thickness of the insulation.  Upstairs, a section of wall has been removed to show the ducts for the heat-recovery ventilation system.

"Eco-enhanced" show home (left)
On the roof, solar PV panels join the solar heating panel that comes as standard.   A section of the lawn is given over to an access hatch for the rain-water recycling system, providing water to an outside tap and for flushing the lavatories in the house.

Car manufacturers have long been the masters of selling the upgrade. What's a few hundred extra for tinted windows or xenon headlights when you're already spending tens of thousands on the car?  Before you know it, you've racked up a much larger bill.

Can house builders do the same for eco-features when we're spending hundreds of thousands on a new home?  We should all be hoping that these experiments demonstrate to the building industry that when marketed with energy and flair, people do see value in living in homes that tread more lightly on the planet.