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Bioregional launches toolkit to bridge the gap in energy performance in new homes

A new toolkit based on ‘real world’ test results, intended to improve energy efficiency in new homes, has been launched for the housebuilding industry.

The new Building Energy Performance Improvement toolkit (BEPIT) is the fruit of a major government-funded research project and is now being offered as a service to house builders.

Modern housing should waste far less heat than older homes and save its occupants hundreds of pounds a year in energy costs. This is because of successive uplifts of the energy efficiency standards set out in Building Regulations.

But new homes routinely fail to achieve their design levels of energy performance, research has shown. During the construction process, the high levels of insulation and air tightness that underpin this performance become compromised.

The £1.3 million, four-year-long BEPIT research project, undertaken by Bioregional and partners, set out to understand precisely how this happened. Funded by Government innovation agency Innovate UK, it used a major low-carbon housing project in Oxfordshire as its laboratory and test bed.

On-site researchers spent thousands of hours looking and learning about what happened during a real-life build to compromise energy performance, liaising with the developer, the main contractor and sub-contractors.

The study examined the issue from design through procurement of building materials and then through all of the construction stages to completion, building up a large database of photographs and technical details.

The key conclusion was that “the devil is in the detail”; a collection of minor problems scattered through the construction process built up into one big problem of poor energy performance.

The research was used to create a toolkit. It’s a process for working in detail with all of the key players involved in the housing project, to alert them to these problems at the right time and help to overcome them throughout the construction process.

Initial tests have now shown highly encouraging results, with a 40% improvement in average air tightness between the first and second phases of construction. The BEPIT approach was fully applied during construction of the second phase.

Further testing is now needed to demonstrate that using BEPIT also achieves an improvement in insulation-performance, with less heat leaking out through the building fabric. But the air-tightness results demonstrate that the toolkit can deliver significant improvement.

Bioregional, an organisation which partners with businesses to deliver major sustainability improvements, is now offering BEPIT as a service to the house building industry. Bioregional was the lead partner in the research project, with other partners including developer A2Dominion and Loughborough University’s School of Civil and Building Engineering.

“After four years of in-depth research, we can now offer the housebuilding industry a service that really works to tackle a serious and long-standing problem – the energy performance gap,” said Bioregional chief executive, Sue Riddlestone.

“This is an issue which harms the industry’s reputation, contributes significantly to carbon emissions and costs occupants billions of pounds in lost energy savings. We want to use BEPIT to make a real difference.”

Julian Sutherland, building services partner at Cundall Global said: “With the UK finally about to start tackling its chronic housing shortage, it’s vital that we address energy performance issues before we start on a project of such huge strategic significance. The fact that many newly built homes exhibit a 50% gap in predicted and measured performance shows how urgently we need the BEPIT toolkit.

“It is great to see a new service emerge that tackles the thorny issue of construction stage knowledge and skills, leading to better and more reliable building performance. The BEPIT recommendations will lead to major improvements in the performance of new builds, leading to lower energy bills for owners, smaller impact on the environment and will also protect the reputation of the construction industry by providing a clear and measurable set of best practices for success.”

BEPIT research project partners alongside Bioregional were PRP Architects, Silver Development and Construction Consultancy, Wilmott Dixon Energy Services and A2Dominion.

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