In November 2009 the BBC ran a story about a planned housing scheme in East Belfast which promised that “new homes will be so energy efficient that they are to be built without central heating systems.” These “No Central Heating” homes were described as ‘Future proof’. Three years on, what have we learned from the facts and figures that these homes have produced?
The “Madrid Street” project was a challenge to true social housing. It was a venture that was trying to provide housing to people with limited income, while remaining focused on the bigger picture. The main questions which needed to be answered in such a project were;
- was it possible to indemnify a house user from rising fuels costs,
- was it affordable to build such a house, and,
- what impact would this have on the person who lived in the house?
The studies which have been done in regards to the information collected on these houses will be presented to architects in seminars in early 2013, but such is the strength of the data, Tyrone Timberframes have decided to share some of this research with the general public.
In relation to the original questions which were always being asked, Tyrone Timberframes were always confident in the approach that they were taking, but confidence in a theory and the facts which come from lived in homes are very different animals. Their preliminary calculations had told them that YES, it is possible to indemnify a house from the rising cost of fossil fuel by drastically reducing heat loss, and Yes, this could be done within a sensible budget, but what would the data from the studies tell them?
The first key point was noted in the early stages and this was in regards to affordability. Tyrone Timberframes take a scientific approach to heat loss meaning that unlike most timber frame companies they don’t over-engineer a solution to compensate for lack of clarity, knowledge or experience. Every detail of their design and specification of fabric conspires to give the best value capital spend for lowest heat requirement.
The additional costs of materials and labour which lead to a home having sufficiently low heat loss are out weighed against typical costs associated with a central heating system. This means that the total build cost of building this type of home falls into the expected price per sq. foot range of a house completed to minimal building control regulations. So, they are affordable, but do they work?
When we move on and look at how these homes performed over two winters, the highest hourly average heating requirement to maintain an ambient temperature in a Madrid Street house for a day was 260w. This was on the worst winter’s day from our harsh winter almost two years ago. Most houses of the same size – 1,100 sq. ft. – could expect to have a central heating system designed to provide a 30kw output (100 times more!!).
If we were to conservatively estimate the heating bill for a similarly sized house as a Madrid street house to be around £600 this year, and calculate a 5% yearly rise, (lower than the average price rise over the last 5 years) you would save just over £30,000 over twenty years on central heating bill
If we were to conservatively estimate the heating bill for a similarly sized house as a Madrid street house to be around £600 this year, and calculate a 5% yearly rise, (lower than the average price rise over the last 5 years) you would save just over £30,000 over twenty years on central heating bills. It is worth pointing out that if you are an average Northern Ireland house-holder presently spending £1,500 per year, you will have spent over £75,000 in the next 25 years.
Some local councils in Northern Ireland have recently indicated that they expect fuel poverty to hit 40% of households and this figure can only rise if we continue to build homes that need a fuel that is continually rising in price. As professionals in the construction sector we need to work hard to make sure that we work to remove the plight of fuel poverty by evidencing how we can build thermally efficient homes, affordably, and now there is no excuse.
Many thanks to Anton Grimes of Tyrone Timberframes for this article.
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