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Inside Housing's Top Sustainable Developments 2015: Green Design Characteristics

By Author: Bradley Weiss
Total Articles: 159

Developers and housing associations are working on new ways to build high performance buildings that are affordable. Here are some winners.

In the UK a mixed picture of the importance of sustainably designed homes is emerging. Prime Minister David Cameron relaxed requirements in 2015 for achieving certain green goals, such as when he scrapped the Code for Sustainable Homes in 2014 and cut off Government financing of the Green Deal Finance Company, which issued loans to homeowners who were insulating their homes with the money.

But builders in the private sector, as well as the quasi-public housing associations, have nonetheless embraced green building. This is due in some respects to a sense of social responsibility on the part of developers, owners and occupants. Investors engaged in joint venture property funds recognize that homes above a certain price necessarily need to be high-performance, energy-efficient structures, situated in low-impact zones that provide habitat for natural flora and fauna. And, there remains value in providing new homes to UK buyers and renters who want lower energy expenses and the sense that their homes are green.

So the magazine of record regarding homebuilding in the UK, InsideHousing.co.uk, included “sustainable developments” as a category in its annual “Top 60” review of exemplary developments in 2015. So for homebuyers, developers, property fund management firms, local councils and housing and environmental advocates, we think it worthwhile to consider the winning characteristics of six selected ventures into exemplary green building:

Bath Riverside - At a cost of £500 million, the approximately 2,000 homes in this repurposing of an abandoned crane manufacturing plant on the River Avon are accompanied by a new park, primary school, surgery, cafes and restaurants. About 25% of the homes are affordable housing (of which 70% are social and 30% shared ownership). Rated at a Level 4 in the Code for Sustainable Homes, these individual units are each equipped with a smart meter, A-rated appliances, and water butts that limit consumption. Residents can use collected rainwater on fruit and herb gardens.

Eco Terrace - An international design competition, sponsored by the developer (Radian Housing Group), found London architects Cany Ash and Robert Sakula who created this three-home development. Built at a cost of £655,000, the structures include solar panels, heat-recovery ventilation, an emphasis on natural daylighting, and chestnut shingles on rooves that provide for bat roosts and bird nesting sites. Each of the attached homes has small courtyard gardens, recycling capabilities and cyclist storage.

Glasgow 2014 Athletes’ Village - Orchestrated by Glasgow City Council with a consortium of four house builders, this 700-home development plus a 120-bed care home was built for £150 million. First used by athletes during the Commonwealth Games, the structures have a district heating system from a combined heat and power plant. Off-site manufactured building components enabled affordable and extraordinary insulation that led to the development achieving the BREEAM Ecohomes standard (“Excellent” level). 400 of the homes are available for social rent.

Hanham Hall - This Bristol development won the category. Built at a cost of £38 million, it is England’s first large-scale zero-carbon development and is situated on the site of a former NHS hospital. The developer - Sovereign Housing Association working with Barratt Homes - found the zero carbon goal to be technically challenging. Priority was given to public green spaces within its urban environment. Of 185 homes planned, 122 are private Barratt homes and 54 social rent owned by Sovereign Housing Association - a working joint venture with many success points.

Passive Close - Built to Passive House (“Passivhaus”) standards, the 51 timber frame homes in this £10 million development were manufactured in a Swedish factory. Features include breather membranes, insulation and plasterboard, triple-glazed windows and doors pre-built offsite - which cost less and enable faster construction. Building heat comes from solar collectors as well as electrical appliances in each home (via heat recovery systems) - and no traditional heating system. Residents of this all-affordable development are trained in how to make the most of the hyper-efficient energy system.

Erneley Close - Another Passive House development, this is a retrofit of a 1960s maisonettes’ building in Longsight, Manchester that cost just £3 million to bring 32 homes to the required standard. Occupants generate heat, 95% of which a mechanical ventilation heat recovery system is able to capture. One resident reported using fan heaters only once.

Property fund management companies look for opportunities to convert land to development, all of which can be developed to green standards and even Passive House criteria. Sometimes there are existing buildings that can be recycled responsibly, but most development needed in the UK involves the construction of new homes altogether. What these projects, a combination of new builds and retrofits, tell us is that high-performance, earth-friendly homes are popular in all price points.

Investors in real asset funds and other types of property should go about it with a sense of social responsibility and environmental consciousness. But a return on investment is a matter of sustainability as well. Speak with an independent financial advisor to learn more about where to invest.

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