Using plans from designers at Cardiff University in England, a zero carbon house has been completed in the town of Bridgend. Built for demonstration purposes, the home cost about $250 per square foot, which is within government guidelines for low income housing. The house will use some outside electricity in the winter, but its total solar output will more than offset the cold weather usage.
The house uses solar generation and battery storage to run both the combined heating, ventilation and hot water system and the electrical power system, which includes appliances, LED lighting and a heat pump. It has glazed solar photovoltaic panels fitted into the south facing roof. These reduce the cost of bolting on solar panels to a standard roof and allow the space below to be naturally lit. A solar air system preheats the ventilation air, which is also warmed by a warm water store.
Professor Phil Jones, who led the project, said: “Using the latest technology, innovation and design, it is indeed possible to build a zero carbon house at low costs, creating long-term benefits for both the economy and the environment. The cost of our carbon-positive house was similar to that of the social housing benchmark, making it an affordable option for house builders.”
The Bridgend house and a similar zero carbon house in Watford are the subject of controversy in England. In March, 2015 Chancellor George Osborne scrapped a proposed requirement that new homes be zero carbon by 2016, saying such houses could not be built for $250 per square foot. According to the BBC, he said builders needed more time to come up with ways to make affordable, energy efficient homes at a competitive cost. The decision not to raise energy efficiency standards for new low income housing reportedly came about after intense lobbying from the Home Builders Association.
Former Energy Secretary Ed Davey said the government’s energy policies were “doctrinaire”. He added, “The Zero Energy house shows that the abolition of the new home standard was reckless vandalism which will end up costing consumers and the country much more money in energy bills.” Other critics say mass market house-builders should be forced to learn new techniques and to use new materials.
Jenny Holland, from the Association for Conservation of Energy, said: “We need an end to the short-sighted Treasury approach that only cares about building costs. Householders want to know how much the house costs to live in, not to build. People pay a little extra for an efficient fridge or freezer. If spending a little more provides a better house that has close to zero energy bills, the occupants are happy and we all reap the environmental rewards.”
My old Irish grandmother would call the policies of the British government “penny wise and pound foolish.” Because of short sighted officials, buildings meant to last 50 years or more will use more energy than they need to for all that time. For a small increase in initial cost, a zero carbon house could pay dividends for decades to come.