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Baker Homes Blog

Groundhog day: six recurring issues with new build homes

Posted by John Stapleton on 13/10/15 10:45

We are often commissioned to investigate and evaluate the performance of new build homes. Here are six issues we have found on our travels:

KIFF: Keep It Fabric First – there seems to be a bias in favour of renewables over better insulation and air tightness when, if it’s done right, the latter is a safer bet in terms of installation and maintenance. Design and build contractors sometimes have different motivations when building a home – they want quick, easy and cheap installs to pass building regs, whereas, associations want long lasting properties that are easy and inexpensive to maintain.

Commission smart – the best way is to specify a SAP rating and let them do the rest – current building regulations are very process-driven, but that does not mean that this is the right way to go. An example is heat pumps being installed in gas areas, simply as an expedient way to meet Part L. Heat pumps are a good thing when used in the right context but in gas areas efficient combi boilers are usually a better cost pence per unit, and are less hassle to maintain.

Anybody have a silo basher? – Lets’ talk about hot water systems. We have met many asset managers who remove hot water cylinders in favour of combi boilers (which are generally easier to maintain and cheaper to run) when replacing heating systems. Yet we still see development directors specifying them – sometimes within the same organisation! It maybe that better communication is needed across teams.

Do it, but do it right – there is uncertainty about which technologies are appropriate or perform better and in what circumstances. For example mechanical ventilation and heat recovery systems (MVHR) are excellent for recycling heat and ensuring adequate ventilation – but if they are poorly installed or maintained overheating and poor air quality is likely.  

Misuse of technology by residents is not simply ‘behaviour change’ – the term ‘behaviour change’ is sometimes a catch-all term to describe problems with how homes are maintained. It can be shorthand for ‘it’s the residents’ fault’. 

In many instances this is wrong.  It may be we are making it difficult for residents to take the right action. Labelling of switches is a small but important detail to get right. In one example the immersion switch was simply labelled “hot water”. This is ambiguous. Does it mean the immersion or just that hot water is functioning ‘normally’?

Detailing, detailing and more detailing – it’s not sexy, but it’s important. One example is lagging missing from the external pipework on solar thermal installations. Another is using silicone seals for windows – cheap and effective, but only for a few months. A good quality tape is much more long lasting.

The silver lining is that things are getting better. But if people don’t learn from others’ mistakes, we’re close to the definition of madness. That’s why SHIFT landlords collaborate and share best-practise, and Baker Homes aims to add to the bank of knowledge through research.

Why not get involved? Our upcoming National Energy Study is looking at the ‘performance gap’ of new build homes, providing an in-depth, tailored analysis of a homes selected by social landlords that will contribute to a nationally important piece of research.

To register your interest and download a full proposal click here.

Topics: National Energy Study, Housing Associations, Energy Performance, Residents, New build

SHIFT Awards 2015, the UK’s sustainability awards for social landlords.
10th November 2015 | the Palace Hotel | Manchester
Submit your entry below.

 

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