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The cost of green

[ISOVER BLOG] With this year’s Multi-Comfort House competition generating such interest, it is clear that there is a growing desire to address our housing needs for the future

However when it comes to green construction, why have we fallen somewhat behind our European counterparts? Germany is streets ahead in its eco housing developments, so why are we holding back?

The Passive House concept was originally devised in 1988 by Swedish professor Bo Adamson and German Professor Doctor Wolfgang Feist.  The first Passive House homes were built in 1990, consisting of four terraced homes in Darmstadt, Germany. 

Since their development, the appetite for low energy homes has increased hugely, with Europe leading the way in their construction.  It is estimated that there are approximately 25,000 certified structures now built to Passive House standards, predominantly in Germany and Scandinavia.  However, the UK’s uptake has been relatively low in comparison. 

The Multi-Comfort House principle was devised to build on those outlined in the Passive House model, demonstrating how energy use can be minimised and how energy efficient living can be achieved both comfortably and economically. The focus is on delivering the highest thermal comfort while reducing CO2 emissions by considering occupants’ wellbeing, taking acoustic and safety features into account. In order to build a home to meet these criteria, it has been estimated that costs are between five to eight percent higher than building a standard house. Is this one of the reasons why more homes have not been built to this standard in the UK?

While the initial costs may be higher, it is possible to recoup the additional money in energy savings in just a couple of years. For example, in a typical family home built to Multi-Comfort House standards, it is possible to heat it using just 1.5 litres of heating oil, compared to 30 litres used in an equivalent sized property over the course of a year. With the price of heating oil rising nearly 70 percent in the past few months alone, any way of reducing cost in the long term can only be good news for consumers.

The recession no doubt damaged the potential of any new developments, with cost cutting rather than sustainability at the forefront of the UK construction market. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Eco-friendly residences are continuing to gain popularity in the UK, with a mixture of Passive House refurbishment and new build projects. 

Successes include the recent renovation project of the Carnegie Village student accommodation in Leeds, which has been nominated for a national award. In addition, the Denby Dale project in West Yorkshire, a home built by the Green Building Store’s construction division, generated a huge amount of publicity. It worked to outline the possible low build costs as well as creating a template for future new builds, enabling the company to develop its expertise in the area of green construction.  November 2010 also saw the certification of the first social housing Passive House residences in Scotland; with the ‘Tigh-Na-Cladach’ or ‘house by the shore’ development overlooking the Firth of Clyde in Dunoon (pictured above).

Concerns regarding our impact on the natural environment are forcing the construction market, as well as manufacturers to change.  We are continually adapting to the needs of our customers and do so with the continued development of new products and solutions to meet expectations. 

  • Helen Tunnicliffe, Marketing Manager, Saint-Gobain Isover

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