Posts Tagged ‘Energy efficiency’

The great PV break-through

15/03/2012

Ross McGuinness is Area Sales Manager for Kingspan Insulate and Generate. In this guest post, he celebrates the unprecedented take-up of solar PV, but warns it’s too early to break out the Champagne just yet…

The massive expansion of solar PV capacity in the UK has passed another milestone recently. Just a couple of weeks ago, SPV broke through the symbolic barrier of 1,000MW of installed capacity.

Sunset reflected in a solar panel, by ToGa Wanderings on Flickr

This growth has been rapid: in April 2010 there was a mere 26MW installed nationally. 23 months down the line and the industry has topped 1GW, which is a stunning result. The driver behind this seismic shift towards green, renewable energy is without a doubt the government-backed Feed-in Tariff (FiT).

This is all very positive news, and with the announcement from the Department of Energy and Climate Change some weeks ago stating their wish to have 22GW installed by 2020, you could be forgiven for thinking that everything is rosy in the SPV garden.

This announcement of several weeks ago has set out something of a roadmap for PV, but key questions need to be addressed before the industry will come out and support the new policy.

The government has destroyed any trust it may have had with the sector and it will take quite some time to repair what has become a fractious relationship. Continued court actions and appeals mean that, in the short term at least, a cloud hangs over SPV in the UK right now.

Looking at what is proposed by government, many industry insiders believe that it will be challenging to convince consumers to invest in SPV at the new rates. One of the main drivers of SPV has been the willingness of investment firms to “fund” SPV, hence the plethora of “free” installs whereby the end user got the benefit of free or discounted electricity and the funder got the Feed-in Tariff.

The new FiT rates will make it unlikely that similar funding models would be viable from an investor perspective. Funders look for an IRR of a minimum return of 7%; anything less and they simply go elsewhere for their fix. The government is on record as stating that they envisage returns of ca. 5% and will strive to ensure they do not go any higher by linking the price of PV modules to the FiT rate.

On the face of it this is a good proposal and should go some way to preventing the “Boom and Bust” that has beleaguered the industry. The mechanism has the potential to provide a sustainable and controlled future for the FiT.

In the long term, this is a positive for the industry, but short term – bearing in mind the skepticism and mistrust about the government’s attitude, and also bearing in mind the further cuts announced for July – you can understand why many are not cracking out the champagne just yet.

Solar panels in a low-tech setting: Breckenridge, Colorado

The belief is that Westminster is out of touch with where the industry is at, but most crucially and disappointingly, they fail to see where the industry can go. The Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change tweeted a couple of weeks ago that the Germans had just announced big cuts to their FiT scheme, implying that he was actually correct in pursuing the cuts here – blissfully ignoring the fact that Germany has had a Feed-in Tariff for the past decade, has a total installed capacity close on 25GW and operates on a completely different scale to the UK.

Under the new rates, the German government is proposing to pay €0.135/kWh for ground-mounted solar farms with a capacity of 10MW or less, and for rooftop installations that are 1–10MW in size. Germany is lightyears ahead of what is currently viable in this country.

There are, however, some reasons to be optimistic. The Chinese government last week directed the leading polysilicon and solar cell manufacturers to increase production, which should see prices continue to fall. That’s good news for consumers and probably bad news for non-Chinese manufacturers. China really does seem to be attempting to establish itself as the SPV equivalent of the Middle East. Continued downward pressure on price of SPV definitely looks set to continue in the short-to-medium term.

The great PV breakthrough should achieve one thing, however: SPV will at least now receive the recognition it deserves as a viable and high-quality alternative to fossil fuels. The SPV industry deserves recognition in Government energy strategy.

There is simply no reason why, if there is willingness on behalf of the powers that be, that by 2020 the UK cannot have the 22GW of solar capacity that government says it wishes to have.

Ross McGuinness, Area Sales Manager, Kingspan Insulate and Generate

Twitter: @rossmcguinness   Email: ross.mcguinness@kingspan.com

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Spotlight on solar air heating

15/03/2012

Andrew Brewster leads the Renewables Design Team for the CA Group – a specialist building envelope manufacturer and installer. In this guest post, he puts one of the lesser-known solar technologies under the spotlight:

Solar air heating is a proven technology that has been developed specifically for heating large spaces. With high-profile advocates including The Royal Mail, Marks & Spencer and Jaguar Land Rover, the technology is increasingly expected to become part of the sustainability strategy of those companies leading the charge for environmental responsibility.

Harnessing sunrays to heat large spaces

What is solar air heating?
Solar air heating works by harnessing the sun’s energy via a Transpired Solar Collector (TSC), or SolarWall®. The SolarWall® technology pre-heats fresh, outside air, which is then actively drawn into the building’s heating system, contributing considerably to a reduction in the need for fossil fuels.

The technology is 100% renewable and has the effect of dramatically reducing a building’s overall heating requirement, providing significant savings in energy consumption and carbon emissions.

SolarWall® in action
CA Group recently installed the world’s largest SolarWall® on a single building for Marks & Spencer, at the retail giant’s 80,000m² East Midlands Distribution Centre (EMDC) in Castle Donington. The 4,500m² Transpired Solar Collector is expected to reduce the building’s heating requirement by somewhere in the region of 30%, by generating more than 1,135,000kWh and saving over 256t of CO2 per annum.

The SolarWall® can be seen in action at the Jaguar Land Rover training academy in this video:

The benefits
The revolutionary solar air heating system has the lowest capital cost and the highest known efficiency of any active solar technology in the world (up to 80%), generating in excess of 500 Watts of thermal energy per square meter on a clear day [Dr. Chuck Keutcher, U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)].

It also offers the quickest return on investment, with an estimated payback period of three years on new build and eight years on retrofit applications. So as well as being an excellent option from an environmental perspective, it is also one that makes good commercial sense.

Global recognition
SolarWall® has been available for almost 30 years and is used in over 35 countries globally. A number of companies have tried to emulate the system but, due to a lack of understanding and third-party testing, they have been unable to replicate SolarWall®’s level of system performance.

In the UK, as part of its ongoing development and accreditation, the technology has received the independent endorsement of five leading authorities: Oxford Brookes University, the Welsh Assembly, Cardiff University, BSRIA and BRE.

CA Group has seen a significant uptake in the technology because of the very tangible results it delivers. As awareness of the technology’s capabilities increase, the Group anticipates that solar air heating will become part of the sustainability strategy of more and more companies looking for cost-effective ways of making the biggest impact on their CO2 emissions.

CA Group’s interactive Renewables Guide offers further information on solar air heating and other renewable options geared towards the generation of power and heat for commercial, industrial and distribution centres.

Green covers from Down Under: an Australian designer’s summary of green roofs

05/03/2012

Our ‘Australian Correspondent’, Mark Iscaro of First Angle, is in the process of specifying a green roof for a client’s building. In this guest post, he takes a closer look at the concept, components and benefits of living roofs.

San Francisco Academy of Sciences, by Osbornb on Flickr

“This blog will be focusing on a new Green Building initiative in Australia that is slowly making its way into the mainstream. Currently a growing trend around the world, the idea of having a green roof is gradually catching on. Even one of my own clients has finally given in and allowed me to put a green roof on their new building in Marysville.

So what is a green roof?

A green roof is a partially or completely covered roof containing a growing medium and vegetation. These are positioned over a waterproofing membrane and can include water retention, drainage and irrigation systems. There are two main forms of green roofing available in Australia: intensive and extensive, the difference being as follows:

  1. Intensive roofs (roof gardens) contain over 300mm of plant growth and can include a wide variety of shrubs, grasses, tree species and even kitchen herbs. They are also more akin to a park or garden, with easy access for recreational purposes.
  2. Extensive roofs contain less than 300mm of growing media, and so are generally lighter in weight. They are suitable for harsher growing conditions and require minimal irrigation, using hardy, low-growing plant and ground-cover species. These roofs can handle slopes up to 30°. Extensive roofs are usually only accessed for maintenance.

Commercial green roof installation, by Arlington County on Flickr

What are the benefits of green roofs?
• Reduce heating (by adding mass and thermal resistance value).
• Reduce cooling loads on a building by 50 to 90% (by evaporative cooling), especially if it is glassed in so as to act as a terrarium and passive solar heat reservoir: a concentration of green roofs in an urban area can even reduce the city’s average temperatures during the summer.
• Reduce stormwater run-off.
• Natural habitat creation, promoting biodiversity.
• Filter pollutants and carbon dioxide out of the air, which helps lower rates of diseases like asthma.
• Filter pollutants and heavy metals out of rainwater.
• Help to insulate a building for sound: the soil serves to block lower frequencies and the plants block higher frequencies.
• Increase agricultural space.

So now that you know a bit more about these wonderful creations and the benefits they provide, why not look at one for either your current home or perhaps your next project?

Note: Information was gathered from Wikipedia & Green Roof Technologies.”

Mark is active on Twitter, and details of his projects can be found on the First Angle design and planning website.

For more facts and figures on green roofs in the Southern hemisphere, Green Roofs Australasia is worth a visit. A good variety of extensive, intensive, semi-intensive and brown/biodiverse roofs can also be compared over at ESI.info. If you are looking to plant a facade rather than a roof, have a look at what’s available in terms of living walls and vertical gardens.

PassivHaus: the devil is in the detail

07/10/2011

The PassivHaus concept is quite a simple one: create an airtight, super-insulated structure, install mechanical ventilation with heat recovery, address thermal bridging, and find yourself with a building that can essentially be heated by a hairdryer. However, as with most things, the devil is in the detail…

Here, I take a look at the following questions:

What does a PassivHaus look like?

PassivHaus is really a design and build process, as opposed to a particular style of architecture. Whilst we may have preconceived ideas of a PassivHaus-certified building’s aesthetics, it could (at least in theory) look pretty much like anything – especially given that existing buildings can be retrofitted to PassivHaus standard.

100 Princedale Rd, Paul Davis + Partners

This was done at 100 Princedale Road – a Victorian house in a London conservation area – by Paul Davis + Partners and contractor Philip Proffit of Ryder Strategies Europe Ltd. This house was the first of its kind in the UK to achieve PassivHaus accreditation, meeting its target to reduce carbon emissions by 80%. (Granted, with the subject of the retrofit starting out as a drafty, four-story old house, there was plenty of scope for improvement.) In other words, a passive house can be anything from a large, new office building to a centuries-old, traditional house. Below are some examples:

Single-family residence in Brooklyn, NYC | Gregory Duncan

Eurogate Sozialbau, Vienna – Europe’s largest PassivHaus settlement? | Tiger46 on Flickr

Passive house office building in Austria | Tõnu Mauring

What does a PassivHaus cost?

The Footprint article on the Princedale Road Retrofit for the Future project includes an interesting breakdown of the cost / payback time / bills before and after completion, making a comparison between refurbishing to PassivHaus or Decent Homes criteria. The Green Building Store, in conjunction with Building magazine, has also provided a breakdown of costs for the Denby Dale PassivHaus in West Yorkshire.

What about air quality?

The more passive (or other enclosed, airtight and sealed) houses we construct, the more important it is that we keep monitoring and assessing the quality of the air circulated in these buildings. Are we avoiding moisture build-up? Is the air too dry? Is there enough of it? Will we see a concentration of emissions inside these buildings, over time, from the building materials used? What are the potential positive/negative effects on occupants’ health and well-being? Housebuilder’s Bible author Mark Brinkley experiments with air quality and CO2 levels in this House 2.0 blog post, relating his findings to PassivHaus standards.

To ensure a good level of fresh air supply, most passive houses are ventilated and heated by mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR). Heat from the warm air that is being extracted is passed to the incoming fresh air through a heat exchanger – with the result that heat loss is minimised and heating costs are reduced. Ducting is an integral part of this: “Marion Baeli, the architect on the [Princedale Road] project, stressed that in a retrofit with MVHR, the coordination of ductwork requires considerable design attention, and should be integrated right from the start.” (Footprint)

Airflex Pro suspended ceiling ductwork installation (Airflow Developments on ESI.info)

Which products are used in a PassivHaus?

The PassivHaus Institut provides a list of certified building components, products and systems suitable for use in PassivHaus construction. Presumably, as this concept gains popularity and awareness, the list will grow. We have already looked at ventilation. Other important components are energy-efficient windows, airtight seals and thermal insulation.

But of course, a component is only as good as its installation. As well as architects who know how to design a successful PassivHaus, and manufacturers who can make products suitable for this type of construction, we need contractors with the right skills and experience. (PassiveHouse Builders, Passivhaus/LCC, Passive Development and Viking House are some of the firms I have come across.)

Project Green Home, Palo Alto | Mark Hogan

What is it like to live in a PassivHaus?

Bill Butcher, the construction manager of the Denby Dale house, kept a 17-instalment diary during the building process. But what happens post-occupancy? How does the building perform, and how does it shape the lives and behaviours of its occupants? In a separate post, I have taken a closer look at the realities of living in a passive house.

What is the next big thing after PassivHaus?

In the absence of a unified, international environmental standard for buildings, there is a certain amount of ‘competition’ between the different accreditations. There is no shortage of acronyms to choose from, and there are almost as many opinions on which accreditation makes the most sense as there are design-and-build professionals. (For a sensible take on PassivHaus vs the Code for Sustainable Homes, see “The Bout of the Decade” by Sustainable Homes.)

Andrew Holt heads the practice Architectopia in Norway, and also runs a course on sustainable architecture. He has worked extensively on PassivHaus developments. In an Arkitektnytt.no article, he talks about what the next big thing after PassivHaus might be. Mentioning BREEAM, zero-emission housing and “plus houses”, Andrew emphasises the importance of tailoring the standard to the individual project, using different tools to come up with a package that is fit for purpose. He comes to a refreshing conclusion (my translation):

What follows ‘after’ the PassivHaus standard should be a variety of different possibilities, so that our ambitions are based increasingly on the individual project and its local climate and conditions. This would facilitate greater innovation, creativity and cross-disciplinary co-operation. This approach demands a high level of competence within the project team.

An understanding of what the PassivHaus standard is, is a prerequisite for high-quality construction within the energy-efficiency sector. An understanding of what the PassivHaus standard isn’t, is a prerequisite for moving forwards.

PassivHaus office in Langenhart | Train.bird on Flickr

How to design a Passive House

07/10/2011

If you are looking to get started in Passive House design, you probably already understand the concept, but if not, first take a look at The Realities of Living in a Passive House, where the theory and the reality are explored.

Below are some more useful links and resources for Passive House design, ranging from the planning and design side, to the fully realised, bricks-and-mortar (or should that be insulation-and-seals?) side of things.

The concept
• Mark Siddall of Devereux Architects explains how simple the PassivHaus concept is and why it ‘is arguably THE low energy, low carbon design standard’.

A certified Passivhaus and part of the Welsh Future Homes Project

Specification
BRE provides a simple comparison between the outline specification of the PassivHaus standard and UK new-build common practice. Notice the wide gap.
Passive House Planning Package – a clearly structured design tool that can be used directly by architects and designers.
• The Passive house Construction Check List from the German PassivHaus institute makes it easier to reach certified passive house standards by listing the most important steps in the process, and particularly draw the attention to the quality control process that must accompany the passive house construction process.

Passive house conference 2006

Certification
The standards are voluntary but rigorous.
• BRE oversees the PCScheme (PassivHaus Certification for Certified Designers and Consultants).
• Three key tests are carried out- the first being an initial energy calculation carried out in the Passive House Planning Package by a passive house designer, resulting in a passive house assessment report.
A blower door test in the US, sometimes referred to as pressure testing / air permeability testing in the UK. (more info from a UK provider of PH testing services)
• The final quality checks by a qualified PH Certifier, after which the project is certified as an approved passive house.

Hudson Passive House image courtesy of BASF. Neopor® insulation used in Hudson Passive House by Dennis Wedlick Architect LLC

Organisations
• The Passive House Institute in Darmstadt, Germany, founded by PassivHaus co-originator Professor Wolfgang Feist.
• BRE UK Passive House hub
International Passive House Association.
Passivhaus UK, part of the BRE.

Refurbished with passive house components, kindergarten in Estonia Valga

Other resources
The Passive House magazine
PassiPedia is a website dedicated to PH definitions, technical details, knowledge, news, performance stats, residents’ experiences etc.
Certified Passive house designer course

USACE delivers 106 environmentally sustainable townhouses to Ansbach military community

UK Projects
• Y Foel, passive house in Wales
The Crossway Passivhaus, by Richard Hawkes and featured on Grand Designs. See also this article by the certifier.
• Tygh-Na-Cladach, the UKs first affordable passive housing, designed by Professor Gokay Deveci. Again, certified by SPHC.
• The Lime House at The Works, Ebbw Vale. A certified Passivhaus and part of the Welsh Future Homes Project. Further details on the BRE website

Go and put another jumper on: strategic steps to a low-carbon UK

11/05/2011

Wool jumper

Halfway I hope... by ingermaaike2, on Flickr


Let’s start with a quick question.

The UK is currently committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by at least what percentage by 2050, relative to 1990 levels?

[Answer at the bottom]

The Department of Energy and Climate Change has a section on its website relating to a low-carbon UK and the above commitment.

There’s a fascinating calculator tool that allows you to balance the UK’s energy demand with the energy supply and monitor the resultant greenhouse emissions.

It’s a bit like playing SimCity and other ‘strategic life-simulation computer games’.

—-

Consider what the average temperature of homes should be.

DECC reports that the mean internal temperature of UK homes during the winter months was 17.5°C in 2007 compared to 16°C in 1990 and 12°C in 1970. Historically, the temperature people choose to heat their homes at has increased over the years.

You’re offered various choices ranging from letting this growth trend continue to 20°C by 2030 through to reducing average internal temperatures to 1990 levels.

The commentary is amusingly sobering. ‘Householders can experience today’s levels of thermal comfort whilst also reducing energy demand by wearing warmer clothing or by heating the house in a smarter way.’

—-

Or how significantly should home insulation be improved.

This time your choices range from reducing leakiness by between 25 and 50%, with varying percentages of the existing housing stock being upgraded (floor insulation / cavity wall insulation / triple glazing) and all new houses being built to Energy Saving Trust or even PassivHaus standards.

The most stringent level would half the power required to maintain a given temperature, although this would be partially offset by a growing housing stock and any failure to reverse the trend towards warmer homes.

—-

And it goes on to cover how we heat our homes and businesses, the efficiency of our lighting and appliances, how we travel and how goods are moved around.

And then it’s on the supply side. How many nuclear power stations should there be? Or carbon capture and storage power stations? How many wind turbines? How much of the agricultural land should be devoted to growing biofuels? Should the numbers of methane-producing livestock be reduced? Have you considered harvesting marine algae?

And what level of energy security do we need? What do we need in reserve if there’s a cold snap or an incoming pipeline is closed down?

It’s actually quite difficult to do.

—-

There are also example pathways from experts and interested parties.

Everyone broadly agrees that demand needs to be reduced by around a third, which usually encompasses electrifying domestic transport, shifting up to 50% of freight off roads to electric railways, making planes more fuel efficient and building to PassivHaus standards.

It’s on the supply side that there are disagreements. Friends of the Earth achieves the 2050 target with no new nuclear or carbon capture and storage, and a heavy emphasis on onshore wind turbines, solar energy and geothermal electricity. Whilst the Energy Technologies Institute take a broader mix of supply sources, including 13 new nuclear power stations along with wind, wave and hydroelectric sources.

Have a look – it’s thought provoking.

—-

[80%. Which is a lot.]

The realities of living in a PassivHaus

07/02/2011

Thermal image of a PassiveHouse (Young Germany)

Once the scaffolding is down and the blower door test has been passed, what is it actually like to live in a PassivHaus? How does it feel to occupy a house that is kept warm using only your own body heat; a house that is completely airtight and needs no conventional heating system? How does it change your behaviour, needs and habits?

PassiveHouse as a concept

The concept of the passive house (or PassivHaus for the internationalists amongst us) is becoming increasingly well known amongst British architects, contractors, developers and clients. It has moved from being yet another forward-thinking construction method that is adopted in mainland Europe but largely ignored in this country, to being championed by a number of UK built environment professionals.

Information abounds when it comes to PassivHaus certification requirements, test results, design detailing, building physics and heat capacities. The Passipedia website is a good resource in this respect. It also gives an interesting historical review of  passive houses from the past. Did you know, for example, that Fridtjof Nansen’s 1883 polar exploration ship Fram functioned like a PassivHaus? Nansen wrote:

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London 2012 velodrome

19/01/2011

The Bike Show is a weekly radio show and podcast from London community station Resonance FM. This week host Jack Thurston talks to Richard Arnold of the Olympic Delivery Committee and architect Mike Taylor of Hopkins Architects, who presents the design vision and explains how he hopes it will not only be fast but environmentally sustainable.

The 90 million building’s ongoing use, after the 2012 games, is firmly at the centre of it’s design. Many sustainable features have been included to ensure that it is not too costly to run once the Olympics have left town. The architect mentions natural light, insulation, energy use, recycled materials and FSC timbers.

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LUMENHAUS: energy efficiency, innovation and sustainable housing

16/08/2010

Solar Decathlon is ‘a competition organized by the U.S. Department of Energy in which universities from across the globe meet to design and build an energetically self-sufficient house that runs only on solar energy, is connected to a power grid, and incorporates technologies that maximize its energy efficiency.’

The 2010 competition was held in Madrid, with teams from Spain, Germany, Finland, the UK, France, China and the US taking part. Over the ten days of the competition the 17 houses produced three times more energy than they consumed (6,177 kWh against 2,579 kWh).

The judging criteria were:

• Architecture
• Construction and Engineering
• Solar Systems and Hot Water
• Energy Balance
• Comfort Conditions
• Usage
• Communications and Social Media
• Industrialization and Market Viability
• Innovation
• Sustainability

Solar Decathlon 2010

Solar Decathlon 2010

Night light display

Night light display

Rotating facades and roof

Rotating facades and roof

Comfort and usage

Comfort and usage

Vegetated wall

Vegetated wall

The winner was VirginiaTech’s LUMENHAUS.

Inspired by the glass pavilion-style Farnsworth House designed by Bauhaus architect Mies Van Der Rohe, the house features a flowing, open plan that connects occupants to each other within the house and to nature outside.

LUMENHAUS emphasizes integrity and endurance. Choices of materials and components are based on the basic requirements of environmental conservation and energy use, as well as the longevity of each product. General concepts for sustainable architecture – compact volume, little air infiltration, strategic insulation, natural/cross ventilation, passive heating, and integrated geothermal energy sink – are articulated with appropriate technologies.

1. Photovoltaic array and electric actuator
LUMENHAUS is completely powered by the sun. A powerful array of photovoltaic (PV) panels provides carbon-neutral energy to the house. The PVs, arranged in a single array that covers the roof, are built into the house during construction. The panels are bifacial, meaning they use both sides to increase energy output by up to 15 percent. Using an electric actuator, the entire PV array can be tilted to the optimal angle for each season (from zero degrees to a 17-degree angle in summer and to a 35-degree angle in winter).

2. Interior lighting
The energy collected during the day will be symbolically radiated back out at night through a low-energy, long-lasting LED lighting system. LED lights are extremely energy-efficient light fixtures that emit a very high-quality white light. They produce more lumens per watt than traditional incandescent bulbs. They also have extremely long lives and are very durable, being resistant to heat, cold and shock.

3. Rainwater collection and greywater recyling
LUMENHAUS is not only energy-efficient; it is water-efficient, too. The roof is sloped to collect rainwater that is filtered for potable (drinkable) use in the house, while water used in the house (greywater – from the shower, bathroom sink and clothes washer) goes through a series of bio-filters in the surrounding landscape where it is cleaned for non-potable use.

4. Passive energy systems
LUMENHAUS optimizes the use of passive energy through day lighting, natural ventilation and natural passive heating and cooling.

Day lighting is the natural lighting of the house through means of windows and other openings. In this case, the entire south and north facades are either translucent (when the insulation panels are closed) or transparent (when the insulation panels are open).

Natural ventilation is the ventilation/cooling of the house through means other than mechanical/electrical-powered systems. The house can be naturally cooled and ventilated by opening any of the sliding doors on the north and side facade of the house. These doors include bug screens to keep bugs out of the house and to let in fresh, clean air.

Natural heating of the house comes through the ability to capture the sun’s heat in the polished dark-gray concrete floor. When the sun hits the concrete slab in the day, it absorbs and stores heat, which it radiates to naturally heat the house throughout the night.

5. Modular design
The modular design of LUMENHAUS allows it to grow with your family. Multiple units can connect or stack with plug-in stairs and entryways to create two-, three-, and four-bedroom houses with the same efficient use of space of the single module. If used as a part of a community, the houses have the potential to become even more sustainable than the single house. For example, if a single person were to originally move into a single module, but then later got married, he or she could add another module to expand the space with little difficulty.

[All LUMENHAUS information from the technologies section on their website]

LUMENHAUS at the Solar Decathlon

LUMENHAUS at the Solar Decathlon

Wise living: BoKlok, the IKEA house

15/06/2010

The IKEA way of life?

For some people, a weekend trip to IKEA is like a descent into the innermost circles of hell. The success of the outing is measured in how many times you have fallen out with your partner, shouted at your parents, or lost your kids amongst the soft toys and sofa beds. More than five = the norm. Less than five = a miracle.

Strangely (and somewhat pathetically?) I actually love going to IKEA. Perhaps it feels like a temporary dip into my Scandinavian gene-pool. Or maybe it’s the smug satisfaction of actually understanding, and being able to pronounce correctly, the peculiar names of the furniture pieces. Or it might just be the pull of the Swedish meatballs and Kopparberg pear cider…

Either way, did you know you can buy not only flat-pack furniture at IKEA, but an actual house to put your Billy Bookcases in?

Each unit has a balcony or patio

The BoKlok website explains the concept behind what IKEA is aiming for: affordable, comfortable and energy-efficient housing.

BoKlok is a groundbreaking concept to housing that involves providing space-saving, functional and high quality housing at a price that enables as many people as possible to afford a stylish and comfortable home.

As with other products from the Swedish furniture behemoth, the housing is kept at affordable levels through the use of standard, straight-forward designs and large-volume manufacturing. A lot of the production is done off-site, for cost-effectiveness and quality control.

Narrow street frontage for efficient land use

Apartment blocks and terraced houses are available; originally developed for the Swedish market, but now also built in Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Great Britain. The concept is also being launched in Germany (where off-site-manufactured and energy-efficient housing is not exactly a new idea).

Some of the design features are typically Scandinavian: timber construction and cladding, enclosed courtyards, open-plan living spaces, high ceilings and large windows. Perhaps surprisingly, the terraced housing features living areas downstairs and bedrooms upstairs – the opposite of many Nordic homes, where architects make the most of rising heat to keep bedrooms cool on the ground floor and living-rooms warm on the first floor. (Here, ThisIsMoney.co.uk looks at the potential financial benefits of “upside-down” living.)

I want my Werther's Originals back

All BoKlok schemes are sold through special sales events in IKEA stores, but before you rush out to buy one, a note of caution: the BoKlok group is awaiting the recovery of the UK housing market before it invests further over here.

Originally in partnership with the Home Group, IKEA/BoKlok AB has only completed one development in this country so far; the St James Village in Gateshead. The BoKlok/Home Group partnership is no longer active, with the Home Group having relinquished their national licence to use the BoKlok concept.

In a statement from January this year, BoKlok says they have no plans to withdraw from the UK market, though:

We believe that the BoKlok concept has a good market potential in the UK. There is an increasing need for good affordable homes and BoKlok can provide many people with better homes.