Pioneering low-carbon project hailed a success in new report

Project 80 has been hailed a success - but targets to cut carbon emissions can only be achieved if occupants know how their new homes function, argues a report from project collaborator, Birmingham City University.

26th Jul 2023 - Corporate news

An ambitious project to build environmentally friendly homes that meet future government regulations has been hailed a success - but targets to cut carbon emissions can only be achieved if occupants know how their new homes function, argues a report from project collaborator, Birmingham City University.

Eco Drive, the development of 12 homes in the Handsworth area of Birmingham, part of Midland Heart’s future homes development programme, Project 80, has demonstrated that it is possible to build homes to the 2025 regulation that are traditionally built and can contribute to substantial carbon reduction.

The 12 homes, which are a mix of two, three and four-bedroom homes, were completed in May 2022, with tenants moving in a month later.

Birmingham City University was invited to join the project, monitor its development, and engage with tenants to record their experiences. In a recent evaluation of their findings, BCU suggest that tenant behaviour is as integral to low carbon living, as the design and construction of the home.

Interim research found that Midland Heart’s standard house types could be successfully adapted to meet the 2025 Future Homes Standard, with energy rating calculations showing an 80-90% reduction in carbon emissions.

The reductions were achieved by increasing insulation, improving window specification, increasing the levels of airtightness, employing enhanced ventilation techniques, and installing electric space and hot water heating with solar photovoltaic systems to help negate rising energy costs.

We are very aware the Future Homes Standard is a massive change and we wanted to learn more about the way we design homes, build them, maintain them, and the way people live in them. The overall cost of what we delivered was approximately 15% more when compared to the same house types constructed to 2013 Building Regulations due to being an early adopter.

Tony Hopkin, Head of Construction, Quality and Innovation at Midland Heart

Tenants at Eco Drive agreed to be interviewed by researchers and keep a diary of their experience of living in a Future Homes Standard home, with the overall user experience across all households summed up as positive.

However, responses did indicate that tenants lived at higher-than-normal temperatures, resulting in higher energy use than expected, making real time monitoring and feedback to occupants critical to changing their behaviours.

Furthermore, lifestyle choices involving cooking, internal humidity sources and other contaminant sources such as candles and cleaning products were found to have an effect on air quality within the home. The variety of ventilation systems effectively maintained high air quality despite the increase air tightness of the designs, however the study argues that occupants need to understand such heating and ventilation systems and equipment controls, to ensure the maintenance of a low-carbon home that provides healthier conditions to tenants.

Mike Leonard, Visiting Professor of Manufacturing and Construction at BCU, added:

“Project 80 has demonstrated that it is relatively easy to create homes that can meet the 2025 regulation. They can be traditionally built using materials manufactured in the UK, traditionally styled, and provide comfort and resilience to meet changing climatic conditions.

“The challenge is to provide occupants with more information about their new home and its equipment, as well as information about their own lifestyle, to bring about low carbon living.”

We wanted to put the customer at the heart of the journey. We were confident we could deliver homes that met the 2025 regulation, but it was vital to understand the behaviours of the people living in them.

Mike Leonard, Visiting Professor of Manufacturing and Construction at BCU

Dr Monica Mateo Garcia, from BCU’s Centre for Future Homes, added:

“The interviews with occupants, conducted by BCU, showed the tremendous success of the project. However, a key lesson learned is how their lifestyles put pressure on the environmental conditions in the houses and often resulted in high energy use.

“Occupant lifestyle is a key factor in achieving Future Homes targets and more needs to be done to help residents understand heat pumps, ventilation and building performance as well as how their usage can optimise efficiency.”

The report and its learnings will be shared with stakeholders across the housing sector and the industries that form part of its supply chain. Midland Heart will continue to monitor the Handsworth site, with findings taken into consideration in all aspects of new build and retrofit delivery.

Read the report here.

About Midland Heart

We are a housing association, delivering homes and services across the Midlands that enable people to live as independently as possible. We own and manage 34,000 homes and we are dedicated to providing high quality, safe and affordable homes, combined with excellent services to over 70,000 customers.

About Birmingham City University

With more than 31,000 students from around 100 countries, Birmingham City University is a large and diverse place to study, located in the heart of the city. The University's mission is to transform the lives of its students by offering a wide range of contemporary, flexible courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level, with practice-based learning and international opportunities built into every stage.

About the Centre for Future Homes

A research group consisting of Birmingham City University academics, focused on helping organisations to measure and improve their building outputs.