Why the delay?

It is now possible to build energy-efficient homes. So why aren't we, asks Fay Sweet
New England Quarter eco village in Brighton
By the seaside: The New England Quarter eco village in Brighton
More energy price rises are expected, and climate change continues to make the headlines, so why are new homes still not being built to maximum energy-efficiency standards? We know it is possible to create homes that use only a fraction of the energy of traditional buildings by integrating new heating systems (solar or otherwise) and the very latest technologies to supply all the clean energy needed to run a house.

'BedZed's shining example is not a standard being set in all new housing'

"Plenty of indicators show that people want greener, more energy-efficient homes," says Paul King of environmental charity WWF, which is running a campaign for more planet-friendly developments called One Million Sustainable Homes.

"We know, through shining examples like the BedZed housing scheme in Surrey, and homes in Germany and Scandinavia, that they can be built, but the standards are not being set for all new housing."

However, King sees a shift in the right direction. He explains: "There has been resistance to technologies such as solar panels because they are expensive and unfamiliar. However, recently we have seen microgeneration move towards the mainstream. Solar hot-water systems have come down in price, and the energy performance of our homes is becoming a factor when it comes to selling them."

New England Quarter eco village in Brighton
There will be 172 homes in the New England Quarter eco village in Brighton
The introduction of home information packs has helped make it clear to buyers how their new home will perform. As part of this pack, the energy performance certificate assesses a home's energy efficiency and its environmental impact. Early findings show that most homes perform fairly badly; the top rating is A, but most fall into the D or E rating, with G as the base.

"Things have come a very long way in the past few years," says John Slaughter of trade organisation the House Builders Federation (HBF). "Homes built today are 40 per cent more energy efficient than their counterparts of five years ago, and new homes are as much as six times more energy efficient than Victorian properties." Some ecological features in new homes have not yet gained mass-market appeal, he says. "The technologies for fittings such as solar panels are expensive, and what happens when they go wrong?" The HBF is in talks with the Government to work towards achieving higher energy standards.

Meanwhile, a handful of the big housebuilders are braving these new waters. In Brighton, developers Crest Nicholson and BioRegional Quintain have teamed up to build 172 homes in an eco development called the New England Quarter. When the scheme was announced, Crest Nicholson's share price headed upwards.

Colourful chimneys at BedZed project
Iconic: chimney at the BedZed project in Sutton
"It will be one of the most environmentally sustainable projects of its kind in the UK," says a spokesman. It is being designed to achieve the highest possible eco-rating.

For more information on the New England Quarter eco village, visit www.crestnicholson.com.

The one-stop shop for a green home

Whether you are considering adding photovoltaic solar panels, a solar-powered hot-water system or a wind turbine, London now has a one-stop shop for making your home energy efficient and for generating clean power. Based near Sutton, Surrey, A1-Zed-Up is a company run by eco architects and builders who can offer advice on the best system for your home and then install it for you.

Prices start at £5,000, with a full kit costing about £25,000. A1-Zed-Up is at The BedZed Centre, Wallington, Surrey. Call 020 8404 1380, or visit www.zedfactory.com. Open Monday to Friday, 11am to 5pm.

The answer is top

Restaurateur Aidan Doyle was building a roof extension to create a new bedroom when he decided this was the opportunity to add solar panels. “We are a very green family, and fitting photovoltaic panels was our next step,” he says. An eight-panel system was added to the roof costing a total of £9,000, but Doyle only paid £4,500, with the remainder supplied by a grant from the Government’s Energy Saving Trust.

Solar roof panels
Aidan Doyle installed panels like these on his roof.
The panels provide about one-third of the family’s energy needs, and their progress with the system is being monitored by energy supplier Npower in a three-year trial of 200 households that have taken the plunge with microgenerators. Excess power generated by the panels is bought back by the company. The Doyle household has already swapped to Npower’s green electricity tariff, called Juice, which uses clean electricity generated by offshore wind turbines.

“We know it will take us years to see a payback on our investment, but we wanted panels for the sake of the environment as much as saving money,” says Doyle. “If everybody did the same, we’d see the price of panels fall dramatically.” He adds that he has also been trying to add panels to his restaurant in Cricklewood, but has so far been thwarted by local planners.

Doyle’s solar-panel system was supplied by Chelsfield Solar. For more information, call 01442 211766, or see www.chelsfield-electrical.co.uk. The Energy Saving Trust www.est.org.uk has information on companies that supply and fit microgenerators, and grants for buying and fitting green energy systems are available through the Low Carbon Buildings Programme.

For more information on Npower's Juice tariff, visit www.npower.com.

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