Energy-Efficient Living at Hexham Gate
A new collection of low-energy homes in Hexham is raising the ‘energy-efficiency’ bar for developer housing in the region.
The terms eco-friendly, sustainable and low-energy are common in the language of new property sales these days. More often than not they just add a layer of greenwash to schemes that do little more than comply with Building Regulations. The death of the national Zero Carbon Homes policy means that serious energy-efficiency ambitions are usually the preserve of self-builders. A new development in Hexham runs contrary to the norm.
I visited Hexham Gate earlier this month where 16 energy-efficient Scandinavian-styled homes are rising from the ground. They’re being built by a joint venture between a Swedish manufacturer of sustainable homes Trivselhus, and northern construction firm Esh Group. If the brand is familiar it’s because we’ve already written about Trivselhus and their low-cost social housing scheme in Blyth. The Esh development, however, is at the other end of the property market.
The spacious interiors are flooded with natural light from the large triple-glazed windows.I met Maxine Black from Esh in the first house to be completed, the ‘Dellen’ showhome. The largest of the 4 and 5 bed homes on the site, at over 200m2, had spacious interiors. They were flooded with natural light from the large triple-glazed windows, the most striking characteristic of the homes. Maxine explained that most customers drawn to view the new homes are interested in their energy-efficiency. What’s not to like about warm bright houses that can be cheap to run?
The houses are all constructed using the Trivselhus building system. Pre-insulated timber-framed panels are pre-fabricated in Sweden before being assembled on-site and clad with stone, render and timber. The modular construction method, with its factory-built precision, contributes to the ‘fabric-first’ approach where energy-efficiency is embedded at the manufacturing stage. The well insulated walls (0.15 W/m2K), roofs (0.9 W/m2K) and ground floor (0.16 W/m2K) coupled with triple-glazed windows and a decent level of air tightness (below 2.0 m3/h.m2) will help to give the homes a good A-rating in their Energy Performance Certificates (EPC).
John Thompson, Esh’s site manager, described how the panels for each house arrive in 3 articulated lorries, being assembled and made weather tight in 3 to 5 days depending on the size. This leaves the house dry for it to be fitted out, whilst the masonry and timber cladding are erected externally. John hopes to have 5 plots completed by the end of the year.
The homes are heated with an air source heat pump (ASHP) which feeds underfloor heating downstairs and radiators upstairs. The ASHP is an odd choice in my mind since the site is on the gas network. In theory it’s a ‘renewable’ technology, but electricity from the grid isn’t low carbon. However, the grid is gradually decarbonising, and there are 3.5 kWp of photovoltaic (PV) panels on the roof to offset the home’s electricity demand. I was delighted to see a mechanical ventilation and heat recovery (MVHR) system which is vital at such levels of air tightness, and the sooner these become mainstream the better.
The serious attention to energy-efficiency at Hexham Gate separates the Trivselhus by Esh project from other schemes in the region. The decent insulation, triple-glazed windows and MVHR system should make for comfortable, quiet and bright houses which are cheap to run. I just hope that it doesn’t take too long for similar levels of performance to trickle down through the rest of the housing sector.
- Typical U-values and the EPC rating quoted are based on a similar house constructed by Trivselhus by Esh in Wetheral near Carlisle.
- All photos were provided by Trivselhus by Esh, except the images of the construction site and the energy monitor which are by Tracing Green.
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