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Green build for social housing

Kate Shepherd, Ultra Green Group

The cost of building green can be prohibitive, but when using a holistic approach, it becomes more appealing. Kate Shepherd at Ultra Green Group investigates green social housing.

Since the Stern Review in 2006, cost and climate change have been uncomfortable bedfellows, but using a ‘whole house approach’ to building could help make independently costly solutions such a low carbon tech-nologies; renewable energy sources; greener resource management; and green building techniques more commercially palatable when used en masse and nowhere is this strategy more evident than in the rise of green social housing

Green building to support 7.9 million US jobs the next four years

Green building will support 7.9 million US jobs and pump US$554 billion into the US economy – including US$396bn in wages – over the next four years (2009–2013), according to a study from the US Green Building Council and Booz Allen Hamilton.

The green building study also determined that green building spending currently supports more than 2m American jobs and generates more than US$100bn in gross domestic product and wages.

The economic impact of the total green building market from 2000 to 2008, the study found, contributed US$178bn to US gross domestic product; created or saved 2.4m direct, indirect and induced jobs; and generated US$123bn in wages.

The green building study also assessed the US Green Building Council's 19,000-plus member organisations and found that they generate US$2.6 trillion in annual revenue, employ approximately 14m people, come from 29 industry sectors and include 46 Fortune 100 companies.

So it’s official. In the UK and the USA, new build social housing must meet a minimum environmental and energy efficient standard set out by the sustainability codes of assessment bodies, BREEAM (UK) and LEED (USA), and from November 2009, refurbishments will go under the environmental hawk eye.

Springing up are visions and new builds that sing from the ‘whole house approach’ song sheet, translated in the UK as a Sustainable Code Level 6. This system measures energy efficiency / CO2, water efficiency, surface water management, site waste management, household waste management, use of materials, and life-time homes.

Reaching the Sustainable Code Level 6 requires an integrated or whole house approach. For example, waste technology, such as pyrolysis, that burns typical black bag household waste into a clean energy supply, does not work on converting the waste of one house alone. Pyrolysis requires the waste from a community in order to be commercially viable. It can even take the waste from neighbouring communities. Alongside an anaerobic digester, which converts food and sewage into biogas and a friendly bacteria waste water treatment, communities can make waste a precious resource that feeds a large percentage of energy needs.

Mitsubishi 3 MW solar PV panels in largest rooftop installation on a single building in Italy

Mitsubishi Electric Corporation has completed a 2906 kW solar photovoltaic (PV) installation for Coop's CNNA-Prato logistic centre in Prato, Italy, making it the largest solar PV rooftop installation on a single building in Italy, the company says.

Of the 15,710 lead-free solder solar PV modules used for the 2906 kW system, 15,650 modules (2895 kW) have been installed on the warehouse roof, covering a surface of 21,000 m2, equivalent to five football fields.

The solar PV rooftop is expected to generate 3.2 GWh per year, which will not only completely meet the energy needs of the logistic centre, but will also generate an estimated amount of 500 MWh excess electricity that will be transferred to the national distribution network.

The 2895 kW solar PV installation on the warehouse roof has become the largest rooftop PV system on a single building in Italy, Mitsubishi Electric says.

This type of holistic construction enables zero waste targets to be reached and can rid the countryside of increasing landfills. The more houses that work together under a ‘whole house approach’, the more potential exists for energy independence and the lower the cost. Waste management has been one of the biggest problems facing local councils since the turn of the 20th Century, and integrating waste technologies into holistic construction is an exciting step forward.

Power management systems are also a key innovation to ensure a constant energy supply when communities need to rely on renewable energy sources. British Inventor of the Year nominee, Alex Bushell, is the creator of the award-winning PowerBoss, which intelligently recognises varying sources of energy and switches seamlessly between them to keep power consistent.

“In most parts of the world, no energy source is con-stant” says Bushell. “In the UK, for example, we will need to rely on wind, solar and energy from waste as well as occasional back up from the grid. The PowerBoss switches between any energy input and has a bat-tery backup system so if all sources of power fail, electrical items stay on.”

Putting it into practice: social housing in UK, and improvements to slums in Brazil

In the UK, several visions of green community builds that use techniques similar to those mentioned above are under way. The UK Government for example has four ‘ecotowns’ planned, which “maximise the potential for affordable housing”.

The Homes and Communities Agency, in support of the Government’s sustainability policy, have set a Carbon Challenge for “decentralised, low carbon, and integrated infrastructure”. On their website they claim to “be testing the most demanding sustainability standards through the development of exemplar projects, together with delivering over 150,000 new homes at code level 3 or better through the National Affordable Housing Programme (NAHP).”

UK low carbon residential development close to completion

A pioneering low carbon development in the UK, the Greenhouse residential scheme in Leeds has reached a milestone in its development, taking the unique scheme one step closer to achieving its goal of creating a benchmark for sustainable development nationwide.

When completed , the combined leading green technologies along with an off-site wind turbine that development team Citu is looking to install, will mean that Greenhouse will use less energy than it creates. The radical eco technologies employed at the unique scheme means that it is rapidly becoming one of the most talked about in the country, and is changing the face of UK development.

Greenhouse is the part restoration and part new-build of a redundant 1930's art-deco period former workers' hostel, into 172 studio, 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments with an additional 15,000 ft2 of office accommodation with support facilities, a gym and deli over 8 floors, on a 2.1 acre site within a 10 minute walk of Leeds city centre. The existing hostel spanned 80,000 ft2 in size and the new build element will increase the total size to 140,000 ft2.

Director of Citu, Chris Thompson, says: “what makes Greenhouse unique is that not only is it a ‘green’ development by building standards but the groundbreaking technologies it will utilise are aimed at ensuring sustainable living by changing residents' behavioural patterns.

For example, we are installing an IP (Internet Protocol) network into each apartment. Crucially, this system will enable each resident to view their utility and media bills from their TV, providing tangible energy usage data translated into carbon emissions and pounds to each resident enabling them to control their energy usage”.

The additional innovations for heat recovery and thermal cooling at Greenhouse mean that when compared with a conventional development, the scheme will save an anticipated 169 tonnes of carbon and 3.8 million litres of water each year, thus making it around 60% more efficient than the average new build property.

Homebuilder Barratts is one development company in line to showcase the most sustainable homes. It is due to develop a former hospital at Hanham Hall, near Bristol, of which at least a third of the 190 Code Level 6 homes will be affordable. Another is at South Bank Phase One in Peterborough, whose preferred bidder is pPod, a consortium led by Morris Homes. 35% of the 350 homes will be affordable (‘affordable’ being a contemporary term for social housing that can be bought outright at a minimum cost rather than rented).

But while the UK races ahead with plans and visions of sustainable affordable homes, many living in countries across the world are still experiencing housing conditions regarded as slums.

The favelas of Brazil, for example, made famous by the Oscar winning film, The City of God, are a prime example of communities still living in make-shift homes, with completely absent infrastructure let alone the existence of green infra-structure. For those living in such temporary housing, shacks and shanty towns from Rio de Janeiro to Mumbai, with heat-absorbing corrugated iron roofs and Rubbish Mountains for vistas – environmental con-cerns are at a minimum.

But things are looking up. Brazil’s economy is improving and, as it does, social programmes are receiving increased funding and visibility from the Government. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s Growth Acceleration Program (PAC) aims to directly benefit those living below the poverty line.

Ultra Green is one of the British companies hoping to help improve the lives of people in places where social housing is not yet in existence. Ultra Green specialises in holistic construction with environmentally-conscious engineers working on waste to clean energy technology and waste water treatments, as well as implementing more energy-efficient building techniques. The whole process, Ultra Green claim, is cheaper when managed by one team or using a ‘whole house approach’.

Antony Blakey, founder and executive chairman of Ultra Green, says: “Brazil’s PAC code has been essential in supporting the replacement of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas with social housing. Thankfully, the Brazilian Government are considering a holistic construction model that is designed to support the UK’s Sustainable Code for Housing.”

“President Lula has nominated Ultra Green’s building technique because it can be manufactured anywhere, creating local jobs. The construction and engineering works are done off-site making it so easy to build that unskilled workers can be quickly trained. The materials and process are also very cheap and quick to build so people can be housed as soon as possible. Ultra Green’s holistic construction could see the end of the favelas and the rise of second world green social housing.”

Ultra Green has donated a prototype of the building technique to the Brazilian Government’s PAC. The show home runs using the PowerBoss power management system and is placed at the heart of one of the Rio’s most notorious favelas.

For the President of the Rio de Janeiro State Public Works Company, Ícaro Moreno, one of the principal advantages of the technology is speed. “A popular home can be built in just 14 hours and the community can assist. Women and senior citizens can participate in mounting the blocks, which are light and easy,” says Ícaro.

Antony Blakey of Ultra Green continues, “Despite economic conditions and the threat of climate change, solutions do exist to improve lives and reduce emissions.”

With the help of Governments who are willing to use social housing to lead by example, the construction world is heading for an environmentally sustainable future. And the goal must be for individuals, regardless of financial status, to have energy security thanks to their position within a green community built with a ‘whole house approach’.

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