Eco housing development set to see significant drop in fuel bills

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WORK has started on the country’s biggest development of energy efficient homes, in the heart of a Yorkshire city.

The houses being built in Sheffield are said to offer buyers significant cuts in the heating bills.

The first of the 107 homes, being built by developer Citu, at Little Kelham, at Kelham Island in the heart of the city, will be ready to move into this summer.

The super-insulated homes, known as “passive houses”, will cut typical heating bills down to just £100 to £200 a year, according to the independent Passivhaus Trust.

A design movement that started in Germany and Austria, the passivhaus has a super-insulated shell, which means the homes need little or no extra heating other than that supplied by the occupants.

Around 15,000 to 20,000 passive houses have been built globally. Already popular in Scandinavia and Germany, the UK is slowly catching up. Unlike most of the UK’s housing stock, passive houses are wrapped in a “massive duvet” comprising brick, air gaps, insulated wood panels, air-tightness membrane and plasterboard, which can be up to a foot thick.

They use a mechanical heat recovery system, with fresh air coming in which is heated up by reclaimed heat from the old air, and have triple glazed windows. At first only available to the super-rich, or those on the lowest incomes in social housing, passive houses are now being built in greater numbers than ever before in the UK.

The first passive house was built in the UK in 2009 and by the end of this year around 1,000 should have been completed.

Chief executive of the Passivhaus Trust John Bootland said in a couple of years time rigorous new standards would mean developers having to build something close to a passive house.

He said: “Very old buildings used to have pretty thick walls - we are going back to a similar kind of approach. But these are very hi-tech.”

Managing director and founder of Citu Chris Thompson said buyers would be able to reap the benefit of cheaper energy bills by investing in an energy-efficient home. He said: “Passivhaus is recognised as the worldwide standard for energy efficient building, so it makes perfect sense for us to offer this at Little Kelham. With Government goals to reduce carbon emissions by 2016 and buildings accounting for 48 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions, demand for homes which are far more efficient and actually conserve rather than waste energy, will only increase. At Little Kelham, our energy efficient houses will go further offering people more than just a home, as we hope to transform the site from a property development into a community through its design and co-operative principles.

“Our plans include options for an onsite bakery, nursery and creative workspaces, to provide a welcome addition to Kelham Island.”

Mr Bootland said the buildings didn’t have to fit a certain style: “You can make a passive house out of any design you want – you could do a passive house in a mock Tudor style and you can have porches and bay windows. In the next two years everyone will have to tighten up their standards and uptake could increase significantly.

“The next site after the Citu site one will be 400 houses in Norfolk.”

He said the houses tended to be a little more expensive as materials cost up to eight per cent more, but these would come down as more were built.

He said: “We have started working with some of the big housing developers so they are getting ready for two years time. By the time everyone starts to buy triple glaxing and the windows and the manufacturers make more of them, they will become cheaper.”