There could be a ‘zero-carbon’ homes revolution across Britain, after a net-zero housebuilder received millions of pounds from the Government to hone its green technology.
Homes England, the Government’s housing agency, has provided £3.9million of funding to Etopia Group, This is Money can exclusively reveal.
It builds extremely energy-efficient houses that could save homeowners up to £700 pounds on their bills each year.
It says the homes, which are precision-engineered in factories, save the same amount of energy over their lifetime as taking a car off the road for 35 years.
An image showing what Etopia’s ‘zero-carbon’ homes in Cambridgeshire could look like
It is the first time that the Government has joined forces with a zero-carbon housebuilder, and comes at the beginning of the COP 26 conference, where world leaders will gather in Glasgow to discuss how they plan to address climate change.
Households account for 40 per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions, according to the Committee on Climate Change.
While it is building 30 homes with the Homes England funding to begin with, Etopia has plans to scale up and says it could soon build 2,000 eco homes every year across the country.
The first development will be located in the village of Wilburton in East Cambridgeshire – a spot sandwiched between the historic cities of Cambridge and Ely.
There will be 21 available to buy while nine will be affordable housing.
Etopia, which is also backed to the tune of £19million by billionaire property investors the Reuben Brothers, has already completed an eco home development in Corby in Northamptonshire, and has other projects under way including another in Cambridgeshire and one in Kent.
Etopia homes can be fitted with solar panels if the owner chooses, which would take them from being ‘net-zero’ to ‘energy-positive’ as they could sell extra green power back to the grid
As well as building its own developments, it is also talking to some of the UK’s biggest housebuilders with a view to selling them ready-made homes to use on their developments.
While he can’t name them yet, Joseph Daniels, Etopia’s founder and chief executive, describes them as ‘the ones you would expect’.
Etopia says it is the only housebuilder in Britain to be recognised as carbon neutral on the international stage.
It was the first housebuilder in the world to achieve the Carbon Neutral International Standard, and to join the United Nations Climate Neutral Now Initiative.
What makes the homes energy efficient?
Homes can be described as net zero when they produce the same amount of energy than that which was used to build and run them – or more.
While a standard home produces 150 tonnes of carbon dioxide in 25 years, Etopia claims that its homes save 13 tonnes in the same period – the equivalent of taking a standard car off the road for 35 years.
The Cambridgeshire homes range from two to four beds, and prices could start at £285,000
So how do they do it? Starting with the construction process, Etopia builds most parts of its homes away from the construction site in factories, which can be more eco-friendly as the conveyor belt system results in fewer materials being wasted.
It can also be quicker, as the process is more tightly controlled and bad weather does not slow things down.
Daniels believes building homes in this way is key to meeting the Government’s housing targets.
We can build faster, and we can build greener
Joseph Daniels, Etopia Group
‘Without technology like ours, the UK is not going to build 400,000 homes per year,’ he says. ‘We can build faster, and we can build greener.’
The Government seems to agree. Nigel Barclay, assistant director at Homes England, said: ‘If we’re to simultaneously meet climate and house building targets, then genuinely innovative steps that create supply-side incentives to increase the number of energy-efficient homes being delivered will be vital.
‘Our role, as the Government’s housing accelerator, is to be bold and take steps that unlock crucial capacity – and offsite manufacturing, with its sustainability and efficiency credentials, is a perfect solution.’
These types of homes also use different materials than the timber and brick that buyers might be used to.
At Etopia the frame of the home is built using insulated panels, rather than timber, as it has no embodied carbon. The walls are also made using a patented system of panels as opposed to brick.
The homes are constructed in factories using a patented ‘panel’ system for the walls
This is known in the housebuilding industry as ‘modern methods of construction’ and it often involves the use of robots and other technologies which make the process as precise as it can be.
This, as well as the high-tech construction materials used, means the buildings are more airtight and therefore allow less heat to escape – making them cheaper to keep warm.
The homes feature air source heat pumps, which can be expensive to install in an existing home costing around £5,000
Daniels told This is Money: ‘With the cost of gas going up, people will start feeling the winters even more, and the type of homes we build will be even more important.
‘You barely need any heating at all. The electricity that is being used is to keep the lights on and keep your phone charged. They are the most efficient homes in Britain.’
The homes also have a host of other eco-friendly features to ensure their emissions remain at net zero after they leave the factory.
These include air source heat pumps, which draw heat from the outside environment to warm a home, rather than using a fossil-fuel-burning gas boiler.
The homes also include futuristic ‘smart home devices’ which Etopia developed with Samsung.
These allow homeowners to track the temperature and energy performance of their home and show them how they could save money.
Solar panels can be included for an extra cost of around £5,000 to £6,000.
These, Etopia claims, would take the homes from being net zero, to being ‘energy positive’ – meaning they can generate more green energy than they need and sell some back to the National Grid.
How much are the bills in an ‘eco home’?
Etopia showed This is Money an Energy Performance Certificate for an existing home at its development in Corby, Northamptonshire.
It had a score of 104 out of 100 – meaning it exceeded the requirements of the ‘A’ band, the highest possible rating.
Expected heating, lighting and hot water bills were £1,314 over three years, equating to £438 per year.
The UK average annual bill stands at £1,131, according to Money Helper, meaning someone living in the Etopia home would save nearly £700 per year.
This could become increasingly important to homeowners as the cost of keeping a home warm continues to rocket amid the energy price crisis.
Etopia’s eco-friendly homes have an EPC rating of A, the highest band available. This means energy bills should be lower, and the company suggests customers could save £700 a year
It said all the homes in its new Cambridgeshire development would have an EPC rating of 105 out of 100.
In the UK as a whole, only one percent of new build homes are A-rated, and the average rating is D.
Buying a home that is already highly energy efficient could save homeowners money in the long run, as there are a slew of new rules on the horizon that could require them to carry out costly green retrofits on older or less eco-friendly properties.
Proposals set out in the Government’s Net Zero strategy, for example, suggest that mortgage lenders could be required to report the average EPC rating of the properties they lend money on, and face consequences if it is below a certain level.
This means those in older homes might find it harder to remortgage or sell without a costly refit.
The Committee on Climate Change puts the typical cost of retrofitting a home in the UK to make it more energy efficient at around £30,000.
And an air source heat pump alone can cost £6,000 to £8,000 to install, according to the Centre for Sustainable Energy.
Those in older homes and period properties find it harder to make their homes greener. Almost 1.7 million homes in England and Wales with an EPC rating between D and G cannot be improved to reach a C rating, according to Rightmove.
Some lenders, including Virgin Money and Nationwide, are already offering incentives such as better rates or bigger loans for those with greener homes to try and push up the number on their books.
These ‘green’ mortgages have increased five-fold since April, and those with energy efficient homes could soon borrow up to £12,000 more on their mortgage with one lender.
While there have been reports of mortgage lenders having concerns about homes that are partly constructed in factories, Daniels said those buying Etopia homes had experienced no issues and that its homes had been mortgaged by ‘every major provider’.
How much does one cost?
For the new development in Cambridgeshire, it is anticipated that prices will range from £285,000 for a two-bed to £500,000 for a four-bed.
However, this could change depending on market conditions when the homes go on sale.
It is affordable – it won’t cost over the odds
According to Rightmove, the typical house price in the CB6 postcode covering the development site was £367,651 in June 2021.
Daniels says Etopia does not want its homes to be more expensive than the typical price in the local area.
‘It is affordable in development and construction and won’t cost over the odds for the local area,’ he says.
‘Our objective is not to over inflate the cost. We are working at a local rate and the Homes England funding will help to get the homes off the ground.
‘They have funded us in the hopes of making this more mainstream.’
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