World-first research facility will propel new homes industry towards Net Zero

Categories: School of Science, Engineering and Environment

A unique facility designed to help create the energy efficient homes of the future will be unveiled today at the University of Salford.

Energy House 2.0 will research and test, in tightly controlled conditions, new ways of powering, heating and insulating homes, making them more energy efficient and helping to meet new standards which require a significant reduction in carbon emissions for new build homes from 2025.

In collaboration with national housebuilders Bellway Homes and Barratt Developments, and construction solutions manufacturer Saint-Gobain, two detached houses have been built inside the climate-controlled chamber of Energy House 2.0 at the university’s Frederick Road Campus in Salford.

The homes feature a range of new technologies, each of which could contribute to lowering the amount of carbon produced when a home is built, and the carbon footprint of the people who live in the home.

Bellway’s house, named The Future Home, will test the UK’s first roof-mounted air source heat pump, along with underfloor, infrared and ambient heating, mechanical ventilation, double versus triple glazing, enhanced insulation, and a prototype shower which recovers heat from waste-water.

Saint-Gobain has partnered with Barratt Developments on eHome2 which looks at how to deliver zero carbon housing at scale using off-site lightweight construction solutions. eHome2 is piloting the use of next generation heating and ventilation technologies as well as smart technology to enable occupants to change the temperature and turn on the shower at the click of a button. The house has a host of innovative solutions, including weberwall brick, a high-performing timber frame system from Scotframe and Pasquill’s Posi-JoistTM floor cassettes that allow for the integration of Mechanical Ventilation & Heat Recovery systems (MVHR).

Energy House 2.0 is a £16 million project part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund. Its launch comes at a time when both cost of living and climate change are impacting on everyone’s lives. The project’s findings will uncover the most effective ways to reduce carbon and to control running costs in our homes.

This approach creates a world-first opportunity for innovators to undertake research and quickly understand the performance of their buildings, systems, and products, in a way that is not possible in any other facility. The built environment accounts for 40 per cent of the UK’s carbon footprint. To achieve net zero will require a step change in the design of new buildings and appliances within them.

Energy House 2.0 features two chambers each big enough to fit 24 double decker buses with room to spare. The facility can test the energy performances of buildings in a variety of categories in any climate and temperature ranging from -20°C and +40°C, as well recreating gale force winds, rain, snow, ice and solar gain.

Usually, it would take months or years to collect the data needed to evaluate the performance of a new design or technology, but because researchers can precisely control the environment to within half a degree they can gather that data in a few weeks. That means that accurate results can be achieved quickly and accelerates the innovation process. In addition, the research will understand the impact of multiple technologies in the homes giving a better understanding of how the homes will perform in the real world.

Professor Will Swan, Director of Energy House Labs at the University of Salford said: “The growing challenges of climate change and the cost-of-living crisis mean we need to consider how we build and operate our homes. Energy House 2.0 mission is to work with industry and policy makers to provide evidence for what works in meeting these challenges.

“Energy efficient, high performing homes can change people’s lives. The importance of this agenda is one of the main reasons behind the University of Salford’s major investment in Energy House 2.0, which is a critical piece of research infrastructure that can help us find solutions to these problems.

“Our cutting-edge research is already having real world impact and as the cost of gas and electricity keeps going up and up this work is even more important to create a sustainable and economically viable future for this country and the world.”

Jamie Bursnell, Group Innovation and Technical Manager for Bellway, said: “This is pioneering research and we were treading on new ground here. A lot of praise is due to the team at Bellway Manchester who rose to the challenge of building a fully-working three-bedroom house inside an enclosed chamber.

“The team was faced with many new work situations which included incorporating new technologies into the build and liaising with new, and existing supply chain partners, and sharing very limited space inside the chamber with other tradespeople working with them. Throughout the process, the team proved themselves to be both flexible and innovative as they fully embraced the project.

“As we enter the testing phase of the project, what we will be trying to do is to find the balance between lowering carbon emissions and keeping running costs as low as possible. This research is aimed at testing out different technologies, exploring the questions ordinary people will have and working out how to take the benefits into their homes.”   

Mike Chaldecott, CEO of Saint-Gobain UK & Ireland, said: “We are delighted to be partnering with Barratt on this ground-breaking project. Climate change, water shortages and resource scarcity are some of the most critical challenges of our time and construction must transform to meet these challenges.

“Creating eHome2 will produce a new blueprint for building homes en masse that are capable of operating at net zero carbon level, consuming far less water and creating less waste. At times like this, with the cost of energy at a critical point, new modern methods of construction which see homes constructed off-site in controlled factory settings are essential to create sustainable, comfortable and efficient homes that will cost consumers far less to heat.”

Richard Fitton, Professor in Building Performance at the University of Salford, said: “The development of EH2.0 has taken over six years and £16 million of funding.  

“Our work with some of the largest house builders and product manufacturers in the UK will help to answer difficult questions about how we reach zero carbon target in future housing.  The facility will help us to stress test these buildings under extreme hot and cold climates, to provide data on energy efficiency and overheating in homes.”

The focus will be on all aspects of energy consumption in the home, ranging from the performance of insulation to the digital energy systems that will control our homes in the future. The mission is to provide robust industry leading results directly from our testing facilities and it is in delivering this mission that Energy House Labs has a focus on supporting industry and government to deliver net zero homes, as well as provide evidence-led advice to the wider public.

For all press office enquiries please email communications@salford.ac.uk.