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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Do You Want To Make Your Home More Eco Friendly?

How can we make our homes more sustainable and eco friendly? In terms of carbon costing is it better to sustainably retrofit existing housing stock or build from scratch?  These are questions that were posed during a visit to the BRE (Building Research Establishment) Innovation Park near Watford.

BRE are an independent research facility for the built environment. Once government funded, the various branches of BRE are now run by the BRE Trust, a charitable company, aiming to keep BRE “as a national asset on behalf of the construction industry and its clients, independent of specific commercial interests and protects BRE’s impartiality and objectivity in research and advice.”
The Innovation Park, just part of the wider BRE organisation, is a group of demonstration buildings nestled within a 75-acre site in the Green Belt near Watford.  Each building utilizes a range of emerging technologiesto promote sustainable construction and provide alternatives to more traditional carbon inefficient methods of construction.

The Innovation Park - courtesy of BRE
There is everything from the Victorian Terrace, a house built in 1855 that has been retrofitted to highlight innovations available to improve existing housing stock, to the Cub House, that is an ultra modern modular construction where the majority of work was completed off site.
Within this broad range there are over 400 innovative technologies on show. Structures vary from clay block to Hemcrete (a hemp and lime composite) and wooden frame. Renewable energy supplies such asphotovoltaic cells and small wind turbines are utilized alongside grey-water harvesting and passive solar design. Even for someone familiar with such technologies there are materials to broaden your horizons and design details to inspire you.
There is something particularly powerful about being able to see all these technologies in action and how they can be integrated in useable houses.  The houses are not at the permaculture end of the sustainability spectrum; instead they are designed to be sensitive to the environment yet appeal to the needs of the mainstream of the construction industry and the average housing consumer. It is a very tangible experience as most buildings have sections that are finished as show-homes alongside more stripped down parts that allow you to see the installation and construction techniques that have been employed.

There are various designs and technologies on show at the Innovation Park - courtesy of BRE
Tours cost £25 (£30 including VAT) and a list of times and dates are available via the website where you can also book your visit.  Tours start at the visitor centre and once there the friendly staff make you very welcome and help to provide guidance if you have any particular questions prompting your visit.  Before being let loose in the park you are also equipped with an audio handset stocked with useful information on the design, sustainability and construction of each building you wish to visit.
In addition to this there is a wealth of printed literature available as well as website links and PDF documents that can be downloaded about each building and technology. In fact, there is so much to take in that the recommended 2-3 hours for a visit is not nearly enough if you want to explore in detail.
There is no simple answer to the question posed at the beginning regarding retrofitting versus new-build (the carbon cost very much depends on the situation and how you chose to measure it) but the proximity of the display buildings and the informed company at the BRE provides a good environment for discussing such questions. Whatever your questions, if you are interested in sustainable construction then the BRE Innovation Park is a great place to visit and valuable resource to draw upon.  Why not book a visit for yourself?
(Based on an original article first published on the Urban Times by The Right Questions)

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