Why would the University of Nottingham build a house meeting 1930s specifications in 2008? So it can use it as a guinea pig for a zero-carbon renovation experiment, the results of which will be relevant to millions of householders across the UK.
The house is about to undergo the first of three planned energy-efficiency upgrades ultimately aimed at helping it meet the Government’s 2016 zero-CO2 targets for all new housing. Over the next two weeks, the university will improve the house with cavity wall insulation, loft insulation, draft-proofing, double-glazing and other upgrades.
The university actually had to seek special planning permission when it built the house to 1930s standards. The building features open fires, single-glazed windows, inefficient water heating and no insulation. The 1930s semi is an icon of its age; three million were built and they remain a major part of the UK’s current housing stock.
The three-year research project to transform the structure to a zero-carbon one is being led by experts from the School of the Built Environment together with the energy firm E.ON.
“The house provides us with a unique test facility to measure the exact cost benefit, energy efficiency and carbon reduction figures achieved through the various upgrade measures we are implementing over the next two weeks — valuable information when deciding on which of the many energy efficiency measures are the most cost-effective,” said lead researcher Mark Gillott.
Dubbed the “E.ON 2016 House,” the semi is the most comprehensive “big brother” study of its kind, according to the university. The structure bristles with more than 100 sensors to monitor energy use, temperature and humidity, making it one of the most sophisticated research houses in the world.
For the past eight months, it’s also been home to research fellow Changhong Zhan and his family, allowing the university to monitor their energy consumption and the building’s energy loss.
“In general, it’s a bit uncomfortable living in the E.ON House,” said Zhan. “We have no central heating, only electrical heaters. To save electricity and money, we tried to stay in one room, normally the dining room, and turned off electrical heaters in other rooms. If we moved into other room, we would feel cold, especially when having a bath or a shower. When we went out, we had to check that each electrical heater was switched off. A hot-water bottle was often used at night to keep warm and save electricity. To prevent cold air coming into the room, we squeezed papers into gaps of windows and doors.”
“Recently we’ve been attempting to find out where the house was losing hot air by pressurising the building and then attempting to monitor where the worst of the heat loss was,” said Dave Clarke, head of research and development at E.ON. “What we found was that we simply couldn’t pressurise the house — there were so many leaks that, as soon as we pumped air in, it was coming out.”
He continued, “This might be the extreme example, but millions of us live in homes like this. Our homes are responsible for almost a third of the CO2 emitted in the UK, so any benefits we identify here could go on to lower the bills and the carbon footprint of millions of families.”
Once the upgrade is complete, the project team will be back to assess the benefits of the low-carbon technologies which can be fitted to existing homes, and the impact of using natural resources such as the sun, wind and rain.
The E.ON 2016 House is part of the Creative Energy Homes project, which has seen a total of six new homes built on University Park. Green Close showcases innovative state-of-the-art energy efficient housing of the future. The project is testing of different aspects of modern methods of construction, including layout and form, cladding materials, roof structures, foundations, glazing materials, thermal performance, building services systems, sustainable and renewable energy technologies, lighting systems, acoustics and water supply. The project aims to stimulate sustainable design ideas and promote new ways of providing affordable, environmentally sustainable housing that are innovative in their design.