Green Technology

Simply Fitting Green Technology Is Not Enough

According to analyses by the NHBC and the Zero Carbon Hub, families who live in new build homes built to the current standards could save more than £1,400 a year on their energy bills when compared to their neighbours living in older homes. In fact, a four bedroom detached new home could be 57% cheaper to run than a comparable Victorian-built home. This gap is very likely to widen with inevitable increases in energy bills and the zero carbon construction targets which have come into effect this year.

 As we know, there are a number of ways to make a domestic property more energy efficient, including solutions ranging from low cost insulation and double – or even triple - glazing through to the incorporation of green technologies such as solar panels and Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR) systems.  Whilst the former are an integral part of the building and are pretty much a fit and forget product, the latter require a degree of interaction by the home owner.

If you ask the average man-in-the-street what a Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR) system is, I’m pretty certain you’d get a blank look and understandably so. Many home owners haven’t ‘grown up’ with these energy saving systems and simply aren’t familiar with them.

It’s simply not enough to fit these energy saving systems and expect the home owner to muddle through. If the home owner doesn’t understand the systems they have in place, they are very unlikely to reap the full benefits. So all the effort that installers, builders and developers have put into making a new build sustainable could be wasted and the suggested savings in energy bills may never be realised.

All parties have a role to play here to improve user understanding.

Firstly, let’s look at the developer’s sales/customer service team. The research identified inconsistencies in the level of understanding of the ‘green’ technologies being offered by sales personnel.  This translates into a very limited ability to communicate the benefits in an easy to understand way. It is therefore essential the developer’s sales/customer service team are fully trained in both the benefits of these systems and how to operate them.

An MVHR system, for example, is not a substitute for heating, but it can help to reduce the amount of heat required in the property and has proven health benefits ranging from the provision of fresh pre-warmed air to the reduction of indoor airborne pollutants. Maybe equipment manufacturers should look to support developers by jointly producing a comprehensive set of material using consumer friendly methods such as videos and easy to understand graphics.

This brings me on to my next point, what happens when the owners of the new property decide to move on and the property changes hands? Whilst new homes usually come with a detailed appliance information pack, this information rarely makes it through to subsequent buyers.  As a result, many new home owners don’t even know what technologies they have in place, let alone know how to operate them. This is now out of the hands of the developer, but the manufacturers and installers can assist here.

Firstly, rather than installing the unit in the loft which is often the norm in new builds, could it be fitted within an easy-to-access cupboard or a utility room?  This has the added advantage of greater heat retention within both the fan unit and the ducting and is immediately accessible for regular filter maintenance.

Clearly it will need to be a system that has a small enough fan unit to accommodate this.  The new home owner is then unlikely to miss it! Secondly, the system itself must be easy to operate and the instructions should be attached to the unit, permanently for all future resident access.

One of the other key aspects that the NHBC Foundation report -‘Low and zero-carbon technologies in new homes; Learning from the experiences of consumers and on-site sales teams’ addresss is whether consumer behaviour needs to change to secure the benefits from the technology and if so, can we expect that change to occur?

I think the honest answer is that apart from committed eco warriors, getting people to change their habits is very difficult. The technology therefore needs to be designed to take this in to account and work with the day to day lifestyle of the average person. Some home owners will also require more sophisticated controls and interfaces and even the simplest systems should be future-proofed and designed to be readily upgradeable.

Despite the zero carbon target being watered down over recent months, energy saving technology is here to stay.

People like it: the NHBC  Foundation report showed that occupiers may not fully understand the underlying principles of the technology, but they were comfortable using them and that four out of six households in the study would recommend them to friends.

But only if we can make the technology fit in with people’s lifestyle and make it simple to use and understand can residents truly reap the benefits.