Green Home: Barratt’s Green Village

As the idea of living in a green home grows increasingly popular. Barratt homes are experimenting with environmentally-friendly family homes, we explore the reasons behind their latest green village…

A wisp of a turbine on a roof, the glint of solar panels, and an unusual number of pipes for harvesting rainwater are the only signs that this property development is any different from many other new homes across the UK.But it’s actually the site of a new green trial by Barratt Homes, one of the UK’s largest volume house builders. And, if a company like Barratt can make it work, could this mean a new eco-era for the whole industry? 

EcoSmart Green Village

Barratt's EcoSmart Village 3Barratt has built their EcoSmart Show Village on an existing estate, Buckshaw Village, on a former Ministry of Defence site. The seven EcoSmart green eco houses range from a two-bed terraced to a detached five-bed family green home.While some of the features of the EcoSmart Green Village are hardly groundbreaking – A-rated white goods, gardens “creating a pleasant private external environment,” secure cycle storage and nesting boxes for local birds – others are certainly less usual on the rest of Buckshaw Village.

There’s the geothermal technology taking heat from the ground; the solar photovoltaic (PV) panels and solar thermal collectors; the wind turbines; the micro combined heat and power unit (CHP); the rainwater harvesting – all of these have been used in different combinations on the seven green homes.

But these sustainable homes aren’t for sale. Open for scrutiny by scientists from the University of Manchester, who will monitor the effectiveness of each building over the next 18 months, they’re also open to the gaze of members of the public, whose reaction will surely be an equally important part of the experiment.

Why is Barratt Homes, a company that already does very well building around 15,000 new homes each year, investing in this new, developing technology? Because the future is already on the cards.

Thinking Globally, Building Locally

Barratt's EcoSmart Village 4If we’re to stave off climate change, we need to cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 80-90 per cent by 2050. And currently our homes produce around 30 per cent of these emissions.So, from April 2008, all new homes in the UK must be given an energy-efficiency rating before they can be sold, with Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) coming as part of the new Home Information Packs.

The changes are likely to be welcomed by the public – a recent survey found that 87 per cent of buyers want to know if their prospective home is environmentally friendly, because as well as saving the planet, it may save them cash too.

“Our customers are interested in environmental issues,” says Barratt’s Group Press Officer, Robert Barlow. “They worry about the planet and the future and we know that we’ve got to do something.”

“As a volume house builder that wishes to continue to grow we have to innovate and give people what they want, so with the EcoSmart Green Village, we wanted to find out what we can do, in various permutations.”

Eco-inhabitants

Barratt's EcoSmart Village 1Although generally the arrival of a company the size of Barratt in the field seems to be cautiously welcomed by those involved in sustainable homes, the fact that none of these green homes be inhabited during the experiment has raised eyebrows.Andy Haynes, a consultant at Integer, who developed a successful four-bed green home in Newbury in partnership with Berkley Homes, says that in their experiment having a family living in the house was interesting for all concerned.

“The people who lived in it for two years didn’t realise how much it would change their attitude to living,” says Haynes. “It was only when they went to live in a normal house they realized it couldn’t accommodate how their lifestyle had changed.”

Despite this, Barlow defends Barratt’s decision to study the eco-houses without inhabitants. “We wanted to see how they perform first. In many ways they’re being used on a daily basis, though they’re not flushing the toilet as many times or using the oven.”

Grand Designs?

Barratt's EcoSmart Village 2And while previous green villages have been distinguishable by their cutting-edge design, with eco-friendliness incorporated into the build, the choice of ordinary housing stock has also disappointed.But, Barlow says, this was a deliberate decision. “Those houses are the most conventional we build. They’re extremely popular and they will continue to be popular.”

“We chose them because if you can make it work with them, there’s the potential to roll it out in large numbers.”

And, as Mr Barlow points out, some of the technologies that may have allowed more integral design were not available a few years ago when they planned the build.

“We’re working with moving targets. When were laying down the plans the under-roof turbines were barely developed, but they were already advanced by the time we were building.”

Economies of Scale

Barratt's EcoSmart Village 5What no one can deny is the tantalizing possibility that the involvement of such an influential company in the field may make a green housing revolution affordable and desirable to very large numbers of people.

“The work we’re doing may be the catalyst to drive down house prices. We can offer economies of scale most green suppliers have never dreamed of,” says Barlow, “and we hope to drive rapid development of domestic micro-features.”We see it as an investment for the industry and the country as a whole.”

But do the figures add up? Well, not yet. As Barratt admit, if they were to pass the current full costs of the green features onto the customer, it could take 21 years for the four-bed Buckingham house to pay for itself.

There are, of course, other benefits that are more difficult to quantify. A pleasant living environment, and the warm glow gained from emitting less of a warm glow into the atmosphere may be worth more to many buyers.

And, if it follows the pattern of other developments, a green home may turn out to be a sound investment, with sellers who are moving on finding the value of going green realized in a quick sale and a tidy profit.

Nikki Sheehan

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