Superhomes: I’ve got mine. You got yours yet?

Superhomes. We love them. In the recently launched Wycombe District Council’s “Carbon Reduction Framework” the use of Superhomes was listed as an action point no less than FOUR times. It read: “Learn from the Super Home exemplars in the area: namely, Hyde Green in Marlow, and Richard Gardens in High Wycombe.” Exciting stuff, but what is a “Superhome”?

To give it its proper title we are talking about the Sustainable Energy Academy’s Old Home SuperHome initiative. The aim of this project is to provide case studies of significant retrofits to old homes so as to reduce their carbon footprint by at least 60%. All of the examples are in the UK and two are in the Wycombe area. There are now over 80 such example homes around the nation. They are not show homes. They are ordinary people’s homes. Whenever possible all of these homes are opened up to the public at least once a year. You can learn more at www.sustainable-energyacademy.org.uk.

In some ways the term “superhome” may be a misnomer. They are only “super” relative to how big their carbon footprint used to be. Certainly it should be possible to build a new home today so that it has the carbon footprint of a superhome. However, how many of us are going to be moving into a brand new home within the next fifty years? Few of us. Most of the housing stock today is the same homes we will have in 40 years time. So retrofit is the answer.

The other way that “superhome” might be inaccurate is that there really are “super-superhomes” out there that are so well insulated they don’t need heating. This is called “Passivhaus”. This is very exciting but Britain is lagging behind Europe in getting the Passivhaus standard into the pipeline for all new homes. In theory all new homes after 2016 should be “carbon neutral” but the exact definition of this remains vague. Currently it means building an ordinary home, stuffing it with slightly better insulation then bunging some eco-bling on (like solar panels). These new building regs are nowhere near Passivhaus standard.

But we should all be excited by the Passivhaus. A Passivhaus is extremely well insulated and draught-free. Ventilation is provided by a heat-recovery system so you get fresh air, not cold air in winter. In the summer they remain cool. Passivhaus is a standard. You could build a home and have it certified as Passivhaus. In theory you can retrofit a home to the standard. You can even buy the components of a Passivhaus, such as the windows, and retrofit them. Passivhaus is the GOLD standard. The best house you can buy. Lib-Dem MP Simon Hughes vowed to become the first politician to live in a Passivhaus home and has called upon councils to introduce the standard into planning rules. In Wales the devolved government has backed a plan to construct hundreds of Passivhaus buildings. We should do that here in Wycombe. Instead of waffling about the new Stadium’s location or looks we should be talking about how to make it “zero carbon”.

Cynics will point out two obstacles: firstly, that Passivhaus buildings cost more, and secondly that nobody knows how to build them. Both are myths. Even if the up front cost of the building materials adds 7% to the cost of the home the total costs of running the home is so low that this pays itself back. The total lifecycle cost is lower. The second point suggest that British builders are somehow too stupid to build warm homes! I am sure they would be very upset by such an offensive suggestion. What is needed is retraining hence we should engage our building education establishments in a program of refresher training for all builders. The best thing we can do is simply phase in Passivhaus as THE Building Regs Standard sometime around 2020.

Passivhaus is but one example of our “better way” that we bang on about all the time. It is about building BETTER homes for our people to live in. Homes fit to live in. Everybody wins. If there was any justice in this world there would be angry mobs demonstrating in the streets demanding the Passivhaus standard now. But there aren’t. Somehow we would rather sit and shiver in our cold drafty homes. That is NOT the better way at all….

About post-carbon-man

A passionate advocate of a peaceful transition to a sustainable political-economy, Mark hails from a working class farming background. Today he is a Company Director and Chairman of the Low Carbon Chilterns Co-operative. Whilst at University (Engineering Masters) he was active in Conservative Student politics but has had no affiliation since. He has travelled widely on business covering the USA, Europe, Middle East and Central Asian Republics. In 2007 Mark founded Post-Carbon-Living and a year later co-founded Transition Town High Wycombe. He lives with is wife & daughter in a home they retrofitted to be carbon-neutral. Today he blogs about surviving politics on a shrinking planet and is passionate in his rejection of Nationalism.

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