A new era for sustainable housing developments? By Sam Holmes
In this post Sam Holmes, an environmental consultant at Groundsure, discusses the on-going challenge of creating sustainable housing. If you have any questions or would like further information please feel free to contact Sam directly via email or by calling us on 08444 159 000.
The creation of affordable, energy efficient and sustainable housing is an on-going challenge in the UK (1).
The Beacon is a new 17 storey residential development in Hemel Hempstead that is paving the way for a new type of development that could meet these needs (3). The developers, Lumiere Developments, believe the project combines luxury and style with cutting edge sustainability resulting in “the world’s most sustainable luxury tower”(2).
To meet this claim, The Beacon boasts an impressive array of technology aimed at reducing the environmental impact of the project and boosting its sustainable credentials. The Beacons 272 apartments will be powered by “the world’s highest density solar PV farm”(2) providing over 0.8 Mw of energy in less than 5 acres (2,3) and ground and air source heat pumps will maintain the temperature of the building. Energy demand will also be reduced through the use of high levels of insulation, LED sensor operated lighting, triple glazing and A+++ and A+ appliances (5). This means that little or no energy will be needed from the National Grid (2), except for at peak times (5). This should provide free energy at least during off peak times for the inhabitants with potential for substantial savings on energy bills. Water consumption will also be reduced through the use of greywater recovery with inbuilt filtration systems allowing it to be reused for flushing toilets and washing clothes (4).
The development also incorporates a fully automated, robotic parking system in the basement with space for 319 cars, which developers claim will reduce CO2 by 80% due to the reduction in vehicle idling time, as well as economising on space. Residents will also have access to electric car and bike share schemes (2,3).
So is the project a true sustainable venture or is it just greenwash from the developers? According to Lumiere, the driving force behind the project’s environmental angle is a moral compulsion to demonstrate how it’s possible to “do the right thing” without impacting lifestyles (4). If the project meets its commitments to being energy and carbon neutral it will undeniably stand at the forefront for residential high rise buildings and could be the UK’s first EPC A+ rated multi-dwelling building (5). It will also be assessed under the Home Quality Mark developed by BRE (2).
But what about the wider elements of sustainability? For all the environmental offerings regarding the sustainability of the completed building on the developer’s website, there appears to be a lack of information surrounding the sourcing of the many thousands of tonnes of steel, concrete and glass presumably required to build such a project (3). There also appears to be an onus on the “luxury” aspects of the development (6). For example, are the scenic glass lifts and robot valet (2) really aligned with the “what is needed, rather than what is wanted” approach to sustainable building design? (7) With a starting price tag of over £217,000 will the apartments really provide “affordable luxury”? Have the developers really considered the wider implications of the development on the UK housing market as a whole?
Given that the building of “eco-towers” is still a new concept (4), The Beacon demonstrates a level of investment in sustainability that goes above and beyond the vast majority of new residential developments and with Lumiere promising this as the blue print for a host of new sustainable developments, for a range of budgets, (4) it could be a promising glimpse of what may be to come.
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