From a City Car Club to a central boiler, David Faers reports on a new generation of eco-friendly housing developments .
Mention eco-friendly lifestyles and – if you are old enough – you might think of Tom and Barbara in The Good Life , or perhaps one of those Birkentock-wearing couples that want Phil and Kirsty’s help relocating from the hurly-burly of the big city to a country cottage with vegetable plot, wood-burning stove and workshop.
These examples only scratch the surface, of course, with a growing number of people doing their bit to reduce, re-use and recycle the world’s dwindling resources.
Now, with petrol prices hitting wallet-busting highs, even the most selfish consumer can do his or her bit for the environment by cutting out the daily commute and living in central Birmingham, according to at least one developer.
When the first wave of city living was hitting the headlines, most of the emphasis was on work-live convenience for upwardly-mobile young professionals, with small crash pads five or ten minutes walk away from the office and the bright lights of Broad Street and the rest of Birmingham’s burgeoning nightlife.
The old selling points are still valid, of course, but developers like Crosby Lend Lease are equally keen to talk up the fact that city living can also mean a greener way of life.
Talk to Colin Dean, sales and marketing manager for Crosby, and he cites recent figures which confirm that the average Briton driving an average car pumps out more than one tonne of CO2 per year while commuting the average distance of 8.3 miles.
By cutting out the daily commute, walking to work and keeping polluting vehicles off the road, he argues, those living in the city centre can make huge leaps towards achieving a more eco-friendly lifestyle.
“There are several other factors which demonstrate that city living is a practical and green solution,” says Colin, picking up the story. “Firstly, city centre developments are generally built on previously used land – also known as brownfield sites. They therefore represent the regeneration of former industrial areas, which means there is less pressure on the green belt and on “back garden” development out in the suburbs.
“When it comes to living in a city centre apartment, homeowners can really reap the benefits of having everything on the doorstep.
“Birmingham’s indoor and outdoor markets collectively have a fantastic array of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fish for those who want to source local food. This not only supports independent retailers but also helps to cut down on food miles.”
To encourage an even greener way of life, Crosby has also introduced a City Car Club at its Hub development in the Gun Quarter, just a few minutes’ walk from the central business district around Colmore Row.
The pool car system gives buyers access to a car without all the hassle and costs associated with ongoing maintenance, fuel and insurance.
If Crosby’s sums are right, every City Car Club vehicle introduced at Hub means that Birmingham’s congested roads will be rid of at least ten private cars.
As Justine Elliot, sales and marketing director at Crosby, points out, the city centre is a fantastic location when it comes to transport links by train and bus but sometimes public transport is not a viable option.
“The City Car Club will allow city centre residents the chance to lead a greener lifestyle, by only using a car when absolutely necessary and avoiding the huge amounts of costs involved,” she says.
As part of its sustainability strategy, Crosby is also showing the way with its switch-off campaign.
This means switching off the showhome lights in all of its five city centre developments – with an estimate of 1,042 kilowatts of energy being saved per quarter.
To put it another way, that’s enough power to boil 8,683 kettles – or make 61,000 cups of tea. Spread over a year this figure is equivalent to the total amount of energy used in an average three-bedroom house.
Colin says: “We all have a choice both individually and corporately when we use energy, and sometimes it just requires a bit of common sense. We’re keen to take the lead in this crucial area of energy saving as we think it part of building a more sustainable future.
“Over a quarter of the carbon dioxide produced in the UK comes from the fuel we use in our homes, so cutting the amount of energy each of us use would have a major impact.
“Crosby has incorporated a number of sustainable features within its designs to reduce carbon emissions and energy costs, while at the same time maximising natural light. Switching off the lights in our showhomes seemed like a natural next step and we hope it sets a good example to others and their energy usage.”
Of course, some organisations were further ahead of the time when it comes to energy efficiency and the environment – a prime example being the Solar Village set up by Bournville Village Trust more than 20 years ago.
This was one of the earliest projects for Royston Jones, MD of Royston Jones & Associates and now one of the UK’s leading experts on energy efficiency.
“The village, and particularly the demonstration house, was designed to show what alternative fuels to oil, gas or coal could be used to heat buildings and produce hot water,” he says.
“At the time the scheme was seen as groundbreaking. Move forward to 2008 and clearly technology has evolved, but this has not been matched by the determination of subsequent Governments through legislation and tax incentives to encourage more widespread use of energy-efficient systems both commercially and on the domestic home front. This will almost certainly change over the decades ahead.
One of the most recent projects is Bromford Group’s development of 30 eco-friendly homes at Cross Street South, Wolverhampton, where he acted as consulting engineer.
While the need for eco-friendly and energy efficient systems seems to be a major talking point for many pressure groups, the truth is that all too often people really don’t understand how to approach the problem – or should I say the opportunity – that exists.
The primary objective of the scheme was to build 27 two-bed apartments and three houses that would be at least 50 per cent more energy efficient than a standard home.
“This has been achieved through the installation of a biomass boiler, extremely thick insulation and with the majority of habitable rooms south facing.”
All these factors should enable energy savings on the heating front to fall from the usual 8-10 kWh – typical of comparable sized homes – to around just 2kWh.
‘Within this innovative scheme, which uses sustainable materials wherever possible, is the provision of recycling facilities.
“The scheme incorporates a communal landscaped environmental park with pavilion and an area allocated for allotments.”
Mr Jones reels off a list of eco-friendly features that includes a fully-automated communal 100 kW central boiler plant – fired on such materials as wood chips – to produce heating and domestic hot water for the homes. A silo stores and delivers the wood chips to the boiler at automatically controlled intervals.
“The energy produced by organic matter such as wood chips is known as bio energy and the fuels themselves as biomass, made from materials like plants and untreated wood or wood waste,” he says.
“Such an approach means supplies can be easily replenished and, in many cases, using biomass reduces the amount of wood going to landfill. The system is proving to be very economical and produces eco-friendly carbon neutral waste.”
Each home is equipped with low-energy electric lighting, thermostatically-controlled underfloor heating, low-flush toilets, recycled kitchen units, and biodegradable flooring.
“The development’s timber has been supplied from sustainably managed forests and been utilised on the timber frame, doors, windows, skirtings, architraves and the external timber cladding,” says Mr Jones.
“The roofs have the same timber-framed construction as the external walls and are packed with recyled newspaper insulation, In addition to this the roof covering is made of grass, which provide very good insulation keeping the building cool in the summer and warn in the winter.”
TOP 10 ENERGY TIPS
Easy ways to save energy, money, and help prevent climate change
1 Turn down your thermostat. Reducing your room temperature by 1C could cut your heating bills by up to 10per cent. You could save around £40 per year;
2 Is your water too hot? Your cylinder thermostat should be set at no more than 60C;
3 Close your curtains at dusk to stop heat escaping through the windows;
4 Always turn off the lights when you leave a room;
5 Don’t leave appliances on standby and remember not to leave appliances on charge unnecessarily;
6 If you’re not filling up the washing machine, tumble dryer or dishwasher, use the half-load or economy programme;
7 Only boil as much water as you need but remember to cover the elements if you’re using an electric kettle;
8 A dripping hot water tap wastes energy and in one week wastes enough hot water to fill half a bath, so fix leaking taps and make sure they’re fully turned off;
9 Use energy-saving light bulbs. Just one can save you £60 over the lifetime of the bulb – as they last up to 10 times longer than ordinary light bulbs;
10 Do a home energy check. Just answer some simple questions about your home and we’ll give you a free, impartial report telling you how you can save up to £250 a year on your household energy bills.