We invest in research and development (R&D) to help us meet changing customer needs, prepare for regulation, improve efficiency and respond to social, demographic, economic and environmental trends. Our R&D Manager coordinates our research efforts and chairs our Functional Interface Group that tests and trials new, innovative and alternative products.
Current research projects include:
We’ve been conducting research to update the technical specification for our homes in preparation for changes to Building Regulations and the introduction of the Future Homes Standard (FHS). This included product trials of wastewater heat recovery systems that reuse heat from hot water, and thermal lintels, manufactured with an integrated thermal break that reduces heat loss and improves environmental performance. With the phasing in of the new Part L from June 2022, homes will have enhanced fabric standards with additional features that may include heat recovery systems and PV panels. Collectively, this will achieve a 31% reduction in home energy use compared with our current specification.
We are also preparing for the phase-out of gas central heating systems from 2025 (2024 in Scotland) and will be running FHS product trials during 2022. These will also help us identify the skills we will need in our business and among subcontractors as we implement the FHS requirements.
We are partnering with cabin manufacturer Danzer and the Carbon Trust to design and trial new energy efficient portacabins. We’re also developing an energy-efficiency retrofit approach for our existing stock of cabins.
We have successfully tested hydrotreated vegetable oil as a lower carbon alternative to diesel for plant on site and are assessing the potential to extend its use. We are also trialling a hybrid generator on one of our sites.
We asked our supplier Ibstock Brick to develop a bee brick and introduced them to our partner Buglife to provide feedback on their prototype. We are now trialling the new bee bricks developed by Ibstock on our Bampton site. We are also trialling a more pollinator friendly planting scheme, developed with input from Buglife, on our site at Hadham Road, in our North Thames business. This includes more pollinator friendly plants and other features to create better habitat for pollinating insects and other native species throughout the year.
We support the introduction of a risk management and disclosure framework for organisations to report and act on nature-related risks and are a member of the Forum of the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures.
We are trialling a reusable platform alternative to temporary decking (used to prevent accidents by covering stairwells during construction) We worked with a supplier to develop and test a reusable alternative to temporary decking and joists (used to prevent accidents by covering stairwell holes during construction). This is now being rolled out and will save over 3,000 tonnes of timber and avoid up to 1,000 tonnes of CO2 over the next five years.
We have also tested an automated machine learning platform for tracking material deliveries and waste removals at one of our sites and floor decking pre-cut to our configurations.
We worked with Valpac, Reconomy, Barratt Developments, Bellway, Zero Waste Scotland and the Supply Chain Sustainability School to better understand packaging waste streams and gather data from suppliers. The study provided useful data but showed that many suppliers do not yet have a well developed approach to reducing the environmental impacts of packaging.
We have a target to reduce embodied carbon in our homes and are conducting a life cycle assessment on two of our developments, calculating the environmental impact of key materials. We are carrying out research to assess the extent of recycled materials used in construction of our homes and to identify opportunities to increase this. Initial findings from our engagement with key suppliers suggest that over 70% are supplying materials with some recycled content.
We have explored using environmental product declarations (EPDs) to help us assess and reduce the environmental footprint of the purchased goods and materials we use to build our homes. However, this approach is challenging because not all products and suppliers currently have EPDs. As a result, during 2022 we will extend our efforts towards better quantification of embodied carbon both for homes and developments.
We are co-funding a PhD at Birmingham University (currently in its second year) to investigate cost-effective scalable construction solutions and strategies to overcome overheating and improve the indoor environmental quality of future new homes.
We conducted research with Building Research Establishment (BRE) in 2021 to increase our understanding of the factors that influence internal air quality. This highlighted the importance of correct installation and use of ventilation systems and extractor fans and engaging with subcontractors on our standards. We added guidance for customers on how to maintain good air quality at home to our home manual and maintenance guide.
We are also testing different ways to engage our customers on nature to help improve wellbeing and the natural environment on our sites. This includes information and events, planting nature friendly show home gardens and offering ‘nature packs’ to customers when they move into their new home.
Post-occupancy research helps us to improve our homes and developments
Recent examples include:
• Research with the Wildlife Trust to understand the relationship between placemaking, green infrastructure, biodiversity and resident satisfaction• Post occupancy evaluation on homes in our Whitehill & Bordon development looking at the performance gap between the ‘as designed’ and ‘as built’ performance of new buildings including energy and water efficiency of buildings and comfort levels (temperature, humidity, CO2) in occupied areas. This based on the Assured Performance Process developed by The National Energy Foundation
• An evaluation of our Project 2020 prototype builds. This assessed: electricity usage and CO2 levels, and we also conducted some qualitative research on in-use performance. The results have been analysed together with pre-occupancy research covering construction waste, air tightness testing and thermal imaging