A house taking shape just outside the perimeter of the Building Research Establishment near Watford is intended as an exemplar not only of green and technologically sophisticated design, but also of rapid, efficient construction - despite frequent interruptions to work by the bbc's shooting schedule.
The first house to be built under the Integer project, launched in February, is both demonstration and the subject of a television programme. For Nick Thompson, project director and principal of Cole Thompson, this £250,000 scheme is an opportunity to try out many of the ideas to be incorporated when the first Integer social-housing schemes go on site next year in West Bromwich, Harlow, Maidenhead and Wiltshire. They will average 15 units each at a project cost of about £1 million.
Although the house at bre uses a superfluity of techniques - two renewable sources of electricity, two green methods of heating hot water, two methods of greywater treatment - the underlying principles are those identified by Thompson for use in all the houses: innovative construction techniques, intelligent home services, and environmental techniques and technology.
The building uses prefabrication wherever possible: a precast-concrete floor slab sits on precast ground beams, supported on piles; the walls are of prefabricated timber panels; bathrooms were prefabricated and craned in. Construction is being monitored under bre's Calibre programme and will take only 12 weeks to complete.
Intelligent systems include a networked cabling system, a security system which can allow some keys access only to specific locks, and a lighting control system from Siemens.
Green aspects include the integration of a full-height conservatory to act as a climate buffer, with automated shading and stack-effect ventilation in the summer; greywater recycling; rainwater collection; and renewable sources of electricity and hot water. The building is clad in Western Red Cedar which requires no staining or sealing.
Completion is due next week when a family will move in for two weeks to be filmed. For a year the house will act as a demonstration project, and then for six months its energy use will be monitored.
Thompson hopes the lessons can be incorporated in the future, smaller developments. The additional cost of the intelligent features is about 15 per cent, a figure he says housing associations will absorb in exchange for reduced running costs and enhanced facilities.