Real Estate

A British university is testing new low-carbon tech that could cut heating costs

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A local authority in the U.K. is to provide university researchers with a house to test low-carbon technologies, with the collaboration set to gather potentially valuable data which could inform how buildings are designed in the years ahead. 

The partnership, between Hull City Council and the University of Hull in the northeast of England, will focus on the use of “combined ventilation and air source heat pump technology.”

According to the Energy Saving Trust, an air source heat pump absorbs “heat from … outside air” to provide homes with heat and hot water. The system developed by the team at Hull “uses a unique mixture of both indoor and outdoor air” and, in the process, helps to cut the levels of heat a “typical house” would lose through ventilation.  

Information on both heating and energy use in the house will be collected over the course of a year, with the project team analyzing the technology’s affordability and efficacy.

“Early indications are that the technology can significantly reduce carbon emissions, when compared to existing gas boilers,” Daniel Parsons, who is director of the Energy and Environment Institute at the University of Hull, said in a statement issued earlier this week.

“We need to test how to best deploy and operate this new technology, which has the potential to decarbonise our residential housing stock across the country, whilst simultaneously addressing fuel poverty through a reduction in heating costs,” he added.

New homes, new solutions

The last few years have seen the development of many new ideas related to energy use and the efficiency of residential properties.

Digitally-connected technologies give consumers insights into how much energy they’re using and the money they’re spending, for instance, while the physical fabric of buildings is also changing.

Examples of the latter include technology developed by companies like Q-Bot. Among other things, the London-based firm uses robots that can go underneath floorboards, make 3D scans and then spray “layers of insulation” on their underside.

Indeed, modifications to existing buildings, including whole retrofits, could have an increasingly important role to play in the years ahead.

This is in addition to the development of brand new homes that integrate sustainable, digitally-connected features from the outset.

North of Hull, in the city of York, authorities are also looking to the future with a plan to develop 600 new homes through its Housing Delivery Programme.

The city’s council says it has “committed to innovative design principles” for the scheme and has described it as the “largest zero carbon house building programme in the country.”

In a statement issued alongside a project update on Wednesday, councilor Denise Craghill said the Housing Delivery Programme, as well as its Design Manual, put “health and wellbeing and climate change at the heart of the developments.”

“The aims include minimising our impact on the environment, tackling loneliness and isolation, reducing fuel poverty, increasing biodiversity and tree planting, and designing our new homes and neighbourhoods alongside existing communities,” Craghill, who is executive member for housing and safer communities at City of York Council, added.

Spread across a number of council owned sites in the city, the York scheme will include homes that are “certified Passivhaus and net zero carbon in use.”

As concerns about sustainability and the wider environment mount, the Passivhaus — or Passive House — concept is becoming increasingly influential.

The concept is grounded in five principles, according to the Passive House Institute: superior windows; airtight construction; ventilation with heat recovery; quality insulation; and thermal bridge free design. In order to be certified as a Passive House, a building has to meet a range of detailed, strict, criteria.

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