21 Jun 2022

Ready for the future – Midland Heart’s high-tech, low carbon housing development

A few weeks ago, I had my first chance to don a hard hat and high-vis jacket and go out to visit a new housing development. Midland Heart’s Project 80 is an exciting project, starting with a development of 12 homes in Birmingham, which meets the government’s Future Homes Standard three years ahead of its implementation. This means that the homes emit 80% fewer carbon emissions than standard new builds.

The homes look like traditional new builds, but once you go inside you quickly see the elements which make these buildings so special. Each house has a low-carbon heat source, an air or ground source heat pump, and no gas connection. Some of the homes are built to be completely air-tight to maximise their energy efficiency, with mechanical ventilation to improve air flow and prevent overheating. There are sensors throughout the homes which measure both energy use and air quality, as well as smart meters to give residents a running analysis of how much energy they use. And that won’t be much at all – a four-bed home in this development should cost just £500 a year to run. That will make a real difference to residents given the ongoing cost of living crisis.

It’s also clear that a lot of thought went into making these homes not just efficient, but comfortable to live in. All the properties are well-sized, with plenty of in-built storage and a private garden for each home. Thanks to this, residents were excited to be moving into their new eco-friendly affordable homes.

Residents are at the heart of this development. The technology will only work well if residents understand how it should be used, as it functions quite differently from traditional heating systems. Midland Heart has engaged with residents throughout the development process, holding open house sessions, hosting meetings between the manufacturers and residents, and providing a full explanation of how the systems work when residents move in. They will keep working with residents after they move in to check that they are comfortable using the new technology and will work quickly to resolve any issues if they arise.

Some issues have already been worked through successfully. There were some difficulties initially in finding skilled local contractors. Some small issues in the installations of the heating systems were identified by manufacturers and then resolved before residents moved in. The importance of building net zero skills across the entire supply chain emerged clearly, as Midland Heart had to resolve issues with the installation of some windows which could have undermined the functionality of the mechanical ventilation systems.

The work put into these homes will have broader impacts. Midland Heart has partnered with Birmingham City University to assess the performance of the homes and to compare the effectiveness of the different technologies used across the development. They will then be able to make evidence-based recommendations to influence the final design of the Future Homes Standard. This should benefit the wider sector.

So, what can other housing providers learn from this development now? A few key things:

  • Trialling new technologies on pilot sites can help build up skills and confidence for larger schemes
  • A strong and ongoing relationship with manufacturers can help identify and resolve issues before they affect residents
  • Green skills need to be built up not just in contractors installing low-carbon technology, but across the entire supply chain
  • Early, meaningful, and extended engagement with residents is critical in all work with low-carbon heating systems
Written by Annie Field

Annie is a policy and practice manager at CIH focusing on critical areas of asset management, including building safety and net-zero carbon.