Guest blog: Delivering the good quality green home of the future

Guest blog by Sara Bennison, Chief Product & Marketing Officer, Nationwide Building Society.  First published in Society Matters magazine.

Guest blog by Sara Bennison, Chief Product & Marketing Officer, Nationwide Building Society. 

First published in Society Matters magazine.

At Nationwide the core principle that guides everything we do is ensuring everyone has a good quality home they can call their own. Over the years this has meant many things: our founders helping people escape poor quality rented housing, supporting “homes for heroes” after both world wars and supporting first time buyers after the financial crisis. With the threat of climate change, good quality homes must now also be green homes.

We have a long way to go to meet this challenge. Most of the UK’s 29 million homes will have to be retrofitted to some extent. This will involve interventions including better insulation, installing solar panels and replacing gas boilers with heat pumps. The problem isn’t limited to existing homes. Only 1% of new homes in the UK are EPC A rated so many homes being built now will need to be retrofitted in the future. With around 20% of carbon emissions coming from our homes, improving them will be essential to meet 2050 net zero goals.

Part of the reason we undertook the development at Oakfield was to gain experience of housebuilding and understand if it could be improved by applying our mutual approach. One way this has already been demonstrated is the 18 months of community engagement ahead of submitting our planning application. This resulted in planning being approved with no formal objections which is unheard of for a development of this type.

The green aspects were a relatively late addition to our plans, showing how quickly sustainability has risen up the agenda, and as the green homes discussion grew louder, it became an area where we wanted to show leadership.

Some steps had been taken from the start of the development process to make the homes sustainable. We built in provision for cycling, by ensuring everyone had cycle storage facilities and worked with landscape architects to ensure there was green space throughout the development. Reflecting this, the development was recently awarded the industry leading Building with Nature accreditation.

Terraced town housing has been adopted to use land efficiently and the homes are built using standard methods to ensure broad market appeal. They had been designed from the start to be high quality in terms of material used and insulation levels and without any further intervention would have still been at the leading edge of energy efficiency.

These measures had been in place since the initial stages of the project as part of our desire to have good design and high build quality. The increased emphasis on sustainability meant that in October 2019, having already received planning permission and close to starting on site, we chose to install solar panels on all suitable properties and use air source heat pumps instead of gas boilers. This moved high quality but standard new builds into EPC A territory.

As a result of this decision, all the houses at Oakfield and the small block of flats will have solar panels on their roofs. This will enable people living in the development to generate green electricity to run their home and potentially also supply green power back to the electricity grid.

While solar panels are increasingly common on new developments, Oakfield will be a pioneer in the use of heat pumps. Just 1% of UK households have heat pumps installed (compared to 60% of Norwegian homes) and we believe the 239 heat pumps for Oakfield is the largest single order in the UK. Electric heat pumps produce significantly less carbon emissions over their lifetime than gas boilers and in doing this, the development is pre-empting Government plans to stop new homes being connected to mains gas from 2025.

One way in which we have been able to use the development to challenge misconceptions around heat pumps is by using them in the flats we are building. This is a more difficult challenge than installing them in houses and we have achieved this by locating the air source heat pump on each flat’s balcony, giving every home on site low carbon heating.

Other aspects also make the homes green. Electric cable points will be installed in bike sheds in gardens, to securely charge an electric bike and people living in flats will have access to similar storage space. All houses will have water butts and some homes will have bamboo floors, a more sustainable material than traditional wood flooring.

The way all these aspects come together was recognised at the Housing Design Awards 2021 where Oakfield won the Building for Healthy Life award which recognises developments built to benefit people and nature.

While Nationwide decided not to make a profit on Oakfield, we understand this would not be a sustainable model for others. As well as learning about how to green a development, we have also learnt where time and money is wasted in the development process. Solving issues like the lack of resources within local authorities, the constant negotiations over different permissions and the lack of construction sector skills would help fund green enhancements as well as increasing the speed of delivery, which in turn would bring the price down.

By delivering homes in this way at Oakfield we hope we have demonstrated that with thought and a desire to challenges industry norms, it is possible to deliver green new homes. As the Government’s Future Homes Standard comes in over the next few years, we hope this becomes the standard approach, providing high quality homes where every effort has been taken to reduce their environmental impact. As the homes go on sale, we hope there will also be a positive response from potential purchasers.

More information:

The Oakfield show home opened in January. Further information is available at www.oakfieldswindon.co.uk