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. In 2019 (the last year for which data is available), we allocated 249 days to R&D projects.
Current research projects include:
Energy efficient and low carbon technology research
We have trialled energy efficient lintels and are currently trialling Wastewater Heat Recovery, with trials of Flue Gas Heat Recovery systems, green diesel and solar hybrid generators planned for later in the year. This will help us to meet our climate change targets and comply with expected changes to building regulations. We are exploring energy-efficiency improvements for new site portacabins and began trials at two sites. The first results identified practical challenges and we are now updating our specifications and our modelling approach based on these findings. We are also modelling the potential benefits of energy-efficient retrofits for our existing stock of cabins.
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 are trialling a reusable platform alternative to temporary decking (used to prevent accidents by covering stairwells during construction) and testing floor decking pre-cut to our configurations. We believe these new approaches could reduce timber waste by one skip for every 12 plots. We are piloting an automated system for tracking material deliveries and waste removals at one of our sites. We hope the system can reduce waste and costs by improving data accuracy while reducing time spent on admin by project teams. 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 are now working with the School on a packaging innovation event, and planning additional work for the house building sector and our suppliers to improve data quality.
Building information modelling (BIM)
We have extended our BIM trials to 10 business units and will be analysing the results in 2021.
Use of low carbon and recycled materials
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 completed an initial assessment of EPDs (Environmental Product Declarations) on two sites.
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 have commissioned a pilot with Building Research Establishment (BRE) to increase our understanding of the factors that influence internal air quality and will use the findings to develop guidance for customers on how to maintain good air quality at home.
Environmental innovation grant
We have launched an internal environmental innovation grant scheme, enabling our regional businesses to apply for small grants to help them test new approaches to reducing our environmental footprint. The first grant applications are now being reviewed.
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