This week we popped in to one of the homes that we retrofitted in 2010/11 as part of a Government-funded project, Retrofit for the Future, to find out how it was performing.
The headline finding is that the house is now using 9% of the energy it previously used for space and water heating; down from 12493kWh to 1133kWh. Overall energy use has been reduced by 75%, with the carbon emissions from the remaining use offset by a cost-effective investment in off-site renewables.
We visited after one year and found that actual energy use was 47% less than that predicted by SAP. There has been a further significant fall since then. Over the intervening years, the average energy use has been 30% of the use originally predicted for space and water heating, ventilation and lighting; and total average use has been 50% of use in that first year.
We expect heat usage to remain steady at this lower level (for the current occupancy patterns) as the fall can be attributed to one-off factors in that first year:
- the building was drying out
- the thermal mass had no heat stored as the build completed in early autumn
- the winter of 2010/11 was particularly cold
Use of energy for appliances and cooking remains the largest influence on energy use, forming two-thirds of annual use on average. As highlighted in previous posts this is very dependent on working patterns and the number of residents. The final 3% of energy use is by the metering system itself – with metering on 8 rings in the house to enable this analysis.
Last, but certainly not least, was the residents’ feedback. The most notable problem was a rain sensor on the automated Velux windows in the sunspace, but that has been repaired quickly enough, and the occupants continue to enjoy the comfort of their old but cheaper-to-heat home.
If this property’s share in a community-owned wind turbine were taken into account, it would have the lowest energy use and CO2 emissions of all properties in the recent Retrofit Revealed report.
Two of HHP’s retrofit projects were included in a recent report by the Technology Strategy Board, and whilst the published results look good, they are not the full story due to the role played in our design by off-site renewable energy.
The Technology Strategy Board (TSB) funded the Retrofit for the Future competition to encourage innovation in the retrofit market and understand what actually works. 87 projects were awarded up to £150k each to retrofit social housing units, aiming to achieve an 80% reduction in CO2 levels compared to 1990 averages. HHP won funding for a project to retrofit 2 semi-detached houses in Newark, Notts, which have now been re-occupied for over 2 years.
The TSB has recently produced a report, Retrofit Revealed, providing the first analysis of data from the monitoring of 37 of the projects.
As we had split the (not inconsiderable) budget between two properties, we were pleased to see that one of our retrofitted houses (property number TSB023) still had the 8th lowest level of CO2/m2 (3rd best of the all-electric properties) whilst the other (property number TSB022) was a credible 26th. In terms of total energy use (per m2), our properties were 4th and 12th respectively. This shows the impact of being an all-electric property, as electricity has a much higher carbon intensity than gas; and the impact of resident behaviour, as the houses are built and retrofitted to identical specifications.
Our choice of going ‘all-electric’ was deliberate: it is not a finite resource like gas; and because our design off-set that electricity use through investment (from the project budget) in a local community-owned wind turbine.
The impact of this investment is not recognised by the TSB report but it has proven much more cost-effective and a lower maintenance approach than on-site renewables. Analysis of the energy data for Property TSB023, for which we have 2 years of meter readings, shows that if its share of SHOCK turbine generation were taken into account, it would have the lowest energy use and CO2 emissions of all properties. A £1,500 investment offset 43% of the annual energy use, and at the same time the social landlord has a regular income rather than a maintenance overhead.
This offsite offset would not be recognised in the properties’ Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) either. This matters because the Government said in their Energy Efficiency Strategy that it intends to make more policies conditional on energy efficiency. Onsite renewables would be recognised, but what about all those unable to install systems onsite due to property type, leasehold or planning restrictions? Or simply unable to afford an onsite system at higher upfront cost per kW?
Further key aspects of our design (passive solar gain, high thermal mass and buffer zones) are not fully recognised by SAP, the Government’s assessment tool, and so similarly the benefits would not be fully registered in the EPC.
Here’s hoping that TSB take a technology-neutral look at the results and feedback into SAP what really works for different properties, and their residents.
The two houses in Newark that we retrofitted in 2010 as part of the Technology Strategy Board’s Retrofit for the Future project have now been re-occupied for over 12 months. As part of the project, the energy use and environmental conditions are being monitored for 2 years following the retrofit, so we’ve done some initial analysis of the first year’s data, and here’s a summary of our findings.
In one house, the tenants are the same retired couple that lived in the house prior to retrofit, so we can compare the past year’s consumption with previous bills as well as the post-retrofit predicted energy use from the SAP calculations.
Prior to the retrofit, the couple’s annual energy use was 15,695kWh. For the first 12 months of occupation post retrofit, Oct 2010 to Oct 2011, their total energy use was 5,305kWh, a reduction of 66.2%. As a part of the retrofit solution, we decided to make an investment in a local community-owned wind turbine, rather than install renewables on the houses (as this was not appropriate for ). Including one house’s share of the annual production of the wind turbine, 1,943kWh, means a net consumption for this house of 3,362kWh, a reduction of 78.6%.
The reduction in annual CO2 emissions is lower at 57.9% due to the fact that all energy use in the house is now electricity, which has higher carbon intensity than gas.
Electricity is also more expensive per kWh than gas, so the reduction in annual fuel bills is also lower at 26.4%, but we have to remember that this is in a climate of rising energy prices, where other consumers would have probably seen their bills rise by an average of 10-15% in the same time period, so in real terms the residents have seen a reduction in energy costs of 35-40%.
The post retrofit SAP calculations predicted an annual energy use of 4,385kWh, but this is only for heating, hot water, ventilation and lighting energy use. We are monitoring 8 individual electrical sub-circuits in the houses, so can compare SAP regulated energy predictions to actual usage. This shows that actual energy use for these regulated elements was only 2,309kWh, 47% less than predicted. Looking at the actual energy use for the sub-elements of the SAP calculation, heating and ventilation energy use were very similar to SAP predictions. The largest reductions were energy for water heating, actual use of 1,186kWh compared to a SAP prediction of 2,696kWh, and lighting, actual use of 62kWh compared to a SAP prediction of 752kWh. The residents clearly use lighting very sparingly! In relation to the hot water disparity, this can probably be explained by the more efficient, HHP designed ‘Hotsi’ hot water system installed, and the fact that SAP assumes a greater occupancy for a property of this size – 2.53 occupants whereas there are only 2.
Analysing the breakdown further, non-regulated energy use (cooking and appliances), which is highly influenced by occupancy levels, accounts for 57% of the total energy use. If we also include energy used for water heating, another element highly influenced by occupancy levels, then this percentage increases to 79%, which clearly illustrates the impact occupancy has on energy use in a very energy efficient house.
Annual gas consumption prior to the retrofit was 12,493kWh, which would have been primarily for heating and hot water, aside from a small amount of gas used for the hob. Post retrofit, annual energy use for heating and hot water was 2,061kWh, an 83.5% reduction.
The neighbouring house that was retrofitted as part of the project is occupied by a couple with 4 children (which rose to 5 during 2011 – congratulations!) However, they were not the pre retrofit occupants, so we cannot do a pre and post retrofit comparison of their energy use. Their total energy use for their first year of occupation was 8,522kWh, or net of 6,579kWh after accounting for their house’s share in the community wind turbine. This is almost double that of their neighbours, but there are 6 (now 7) occupants as opposed to 2 next door, and as we’ve seen occupancy has a significant influence on total energy use.
This analysis is based on the first year of occupancy, to Oct 2011, and there are a number of factors that we believe will have caused this 12-month period to have higher energy use than we’d otherwise expect:
- The retrofit design is based on the principals of passive solar design and high thermal mass (like the homes at HHP), but the houses were completed and re-occupied entering the heating season, so were still drying out and had not had chance to build up a store of energy in the mass to help them through the winter;
- The Envirovent MVHR units broke down and/or were replaced on numerous occasions during the first winter (the first house had 4 units in 12 months) leading to significant periods where the occupants had to open windows to ventilate the house, which completely undermines the design and will negatively impact thermal performance and the homes’ comfort;
- The winter of ’10-’11 was extremely harsh.
In relation to point 1, when the first house was re-visited in October 2011, the internal temperature was 24oC on a Sunday evening, and the occupants had not had to start using the electric heaters, whereas 12 months earlier when they first moved in the internal temperature was 19oC and the heaters were already on for a few hours each day.
As we exit the ‘11/’12 winter (hopefully!), which was much milder than the previous year, it looks like energy use is reducing, at least in the first house where occupancy levels are the same. Comparing total energy use in this house for the November – February period with the same period from the previous year, shows a further 25.7% reduction. In the second house, the energy use for the same period compared to the previous year has actually increased by 9.7%, but there is increased occupancy, and as we have seen, and see here at HHP, occupancy level has a significant impact on energy use in very energy efficient homes.
But what do the residents think about their new homes? We’ve not been able to contact the family in the second home, but have spoken to the retired couple. They had occupied the house for 40 years prior to the retrofit, so are well placed to comment on their new home. There have been some issues, most notably the Envirovent MVHR units frequently failing in the first year, and occasionally find the house too hot in summer or too cold in winter, but on the whole they are very happy with their new home.
The tenants of one house have now been back in their home for 2 weeks, and we’ve taken a look at their energy use over that period.
Their total energy consumption is averaging at 11.93kWh/day. At that rate, their annual consumption will be 4,356kWh. However, the heaters are on at the moment – averaging 2.27kWh/day (pretty low!) – so we’re hoping the annual use will be lower than this, as these will not be on all year. It will also probably require more heating this winter as the house has been a building site for 6 months, and not able to build up a store of solar energy from the summer.
So how does this compare to their previous energy use? Well, looking at 18 months of bills prior to the retrofit, they were averaging 3,241kWh/yr of electricity and 18,972kWh/yr of gas.
So down from an annual energy consumption of 22,213kWh to 4,356kWh – not a bad start; long may it continue …