Still going for gold: Radian launches new eco-homes

By Simon Brammer, Ashden UK Programme Manager

By Simon Brammer, Ashden UK Programme Manager

“It’s brilliant!” said the very heavily pregnant mum, albeit looking a little overwhelmed at the hundred or so guests, including Grand Design’s Kevin McCloud, standing in her communal front garden.  “We moved here in March and haven’t needed to use the heating at all yet; our bills are really low and the kids love playing in the allotment.  I have to admit, we were a bit nervous at first about the idea of an eco-home, but it looks just like most homes inside – and it’s really cheap to run”.

Stoneham Green in Southampton is part of a new affordable homes development built and managed by Radian housing association, last year’s Ashden Gold Award winner.  The homes are designed to reduce environmental impact and maximise the use of renewable energy – all south-facing roofs are fitted with solar PV and the small heat demand is met by a communal biomass boiler.

All of the homes are rated six – the highest rating possible – on the Code for Sustainable Homes' star rating system.

The great news is that by creating such small energy bills, residents have more disposable income to spend locally.  As Peter Evans, Stoneham Green’s Director of Technical Services told me: “It’s a triple win:  The environmental benefits are obvious but for our residents it’s the social benefits that are so good – of course, cosy homes but living in a development designed to let kids play, parents mingle and residents the opportunity to grow their own food (each home has an allotment plot). And all the savings are pumped back into the local economy, which is much needed in this area”.

Counteracting the ‘rebound effect’: the 'energy dashboard'

Most of the energy efficiency that these houses achieve is invisible; it’s to do with the high standards of the build, creating improved air tightness and preventing heat travelling through the walls, windows and roof - what those in the trade call achieving ‘reduced U values.'

But there was one bit of technological kit that really caught my eye.

It is now widely recognised that you can build an as energy efficient house as you like but if the people living in it don’t know how to use it or how they can be more efficient themselves, you get something called ‘the rebound effect’. That’s where residents negate energy savings achieved through more efficient houses by adapting their behaviour. Put another way, think of moving into your new eco-home then wopping up the temperature and shedding all your layers of clothing.

To help it monitor the performance of its new homes and residents to make the most of them, Radian is trialling a new bit of technological kit: the Energy Dashboard. This touchscreen device provides real-time information on how much energy residents are using, the best time to use appliances (based on generation), when their next bills are due and even when the next bus into town leaves!  At the mere touch of a button, residents can now watch a YouTube-style video clip of Radian resident Polly Long explaining how to run their entire house, from turning windows inside out to clean them through to how to set the thermostat.

Replacing a weighty instruction manual that residents rarely looked at, this nifty bit of kit makes information much more accessible - and it can all be updated remotely. 

So enthralled was I with the kit that someone was sent to search for me to make sure the coach didn’t leave without me!

While these types of devices to address behaviour change are still new, what Radian have successfully done is to prove that we are now beyond the age of ‘the pilot’: They have taken the once niche eco-home right into the mainstream.

Next week’s Ashden conference will see finalists for this year’s Ashden Awards including Parity Projects, the National Trust, Student Switch Off, the University Hospital of South Manchester and others share their own experiences of creating behaviour change – among students, employees, customers and communities. It promises to be an inspiring morning.

But Radian has set the bar very high for others to follow. It’s great to see, a year on, it’s still going for gold.

Read more about the UK finalists for this year's Ashden Awards

Keep up with the buzz around this year’s conference and awards on Twitter: #Ashden12