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Future Homes - Concepts and Technologies

Welcome to the replay for our webinar, Future Homes: Concepts and Technologies. The presentation lasts for approximately 30 minutes, and is followed by a live Zoom Q & A session with the audience, hosted by our Managing Director, Keira Proctor, featuring special guest presenter, Professor Sean Smith, Director of the Centre for Future Infrastructure at the Univeristy of Edinburgh.

The webinar covers the following topics:

  • Energy Changes
  • Green Hydrogen
  • Fabric Performance and Materials
  • Intelligent Systems
  • Digital Twinning
  • Net Zero Carbon
  • Horizon Factors
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Webinar Transcript
Hello and welcome to today webinar. My names Keira Proctor, managing director of the A. Proctor Group, and this is the 17th Webinar in our series that's been running since April. You can go back and review the whole series right here on our YouTube channel or by visiting our learning hub at www.proctorgroup.com.
You can also use our learning hub to request CPD certification, book follow-up virtual meetings with our team of local advisors around the UK, or to order sample packs for the products and systems covered in each webinar.
Today we're going to discuss the future of housing and construction, and look at some of the concepts and technologies that will shape these developments. We're going to begin with a special guest presentation from Professor Sean Smith, Director of the Centre for Future Infrastructure at the University of Edinburgh who will cover some of the key concepts and insights driving developments across the industry.
We'll follow Sean's presentation up with a rundown of some the key technologies of systems that will play a critical role delivering fabric performance changes, and finally we'll have our usual Q&A session where Professor Smith will be joining our team of technical experts to take your questions.
So we'll now hand over to Sean to begin todays webinar.
Future Construction Insights
Hello everybody. And thanks very much to the Proctor group for the opportunity to come and present today on some thoughts. It's a short period, 20-odd minutes. So it's a short period to cover many things.
So I won't cover everything, but I hope you'll find it useful in terms of some of the thoughts around the future construction insights. Today I'm going to cover a number of things from the future housing requirements from local to global.
We're going to talk briefly about the green hydrogen revolution, which is currently underway, the spectrum crunch, which some of you may have heard of, and some of the new technologies to come such as Li-Fi and how are we incorporating this into buildings and assets and our homes for the future?
Building asset monitoring and the role of digital twinning and future sensors, which are becoming really interesting and really starting to take off the scale of energy efficient measures, which are en route. And these are definitely coming. They're definitely going to happen. So it's useful to plan and look at that route map of what's coming.
The mixing of terms, net zero carbon neutral and zero carbon. We'll briefly touch on that. And then finally, some of the areas that we currently do just now in the construction sector, our operations, our delivery, our products, which action, that wouldn't be included in some of the net zero requirements of procurement by local authorities just now, and as a result, do we need to make sure that we, instead of just focusing entirely net zero, which then might get rid of some of the fantastic or dissuade people from undertaking some fantastic work that they're doing and materials and other areas to make sure we still keep that momentum going, then we include it under horizon net zero type approach.
New Housing Required
Well, first of all, the world's population, and the next 80 years, it seems a long way away, but literally it starts as of tomorrow. So to speak to the next 80 years is not 80 years time. It's actually from now. Population over the period will increase by three and a half billion. A huge, huge population rise roughly about 40 to 38% of the population growth that we currently have.
And in addition to that, because people are also living longer, there isn't that same cycle ability of homes coming back onto the market. So when you take the population growth to come over the next 80 years, plus people living longer, and that lack of recycle that have housing coming back onto the market. So collectively it's roughly 2.1 billion new homes will have to be built in the next 80 years.
To give you a sense of scale that's equivalent to building the whole of Europe seven times in the next 18 years. In England and Wales, we look at that and then by 2030, that's just the next 10 years, roughly about 2.3 million homes will require it to be built. And that's equivalent to building the whole of Yorkshire and the Humber regions all over again.
And in terms of Scotland, Scotland's new housing need roughly will be about 260,000 new homes in 10 years, time by 2030, equivalent to building the whole of the city of Edinburgh again.
Buildings and Future Energy
Moving on, hydrogen is really starting to take off and we've seen significant investments coming in, to this area just now both from utility companies and also oil and gas companies with major global companies, switching investment, particularly into green hydrogen.
It's also useful to know your hydrogens.
So quite a bit of the hydrogen we see today is grey hydrogen, which splits natural gas into CO2 and hydrogen, but unfortunately still emits the CO2.
Blue hydrogen, which has been also gathering some piece recently where the residual gases are then stored or reused.
But green hydrogen is the one that most people are favouring because in green hydrogen, we split the water into hydrogen and oxygen by electrolysis, and that's the electrolysis or that electricity is powered by wind and sun. So it's using renewable energy.
Goldman Sachs projected that $20 trillion future global market will be the value of the hydrogen sector with the predominance of that being green hydrogen, and for the UK economy by 2050, it'll be worth £320 billion.
Spectrum Crunch
I think we've all noticed with COVID era and we're all working from home and various other changes is that we're all utilizing the internet and Wi-Fi and various other things far more. And it's amazing how far it's come. You know, the Wi-Fi actual development has been over a period of about 30 years of which the vast majority of the infrastructure and other things was in the last 10 to 15 years.
It's amazing to look at internet users, in 1995 or 60 million. Now, 24 years later, there's 4.8 billion. In 2009 0.7% of all tablet use was by sort of internet use was by tablets or mobile files and that's 53% today in 2020.
So year on year, it's grown. And, of course this year, it's likely to be even more. These are forecasts of exabytes on that blue graph, you see there for the coming year, the red bar assumes where it could be by the end of this year.
The problem is there is only so much effective bandwidth or spectrum frequency which we can use, and that's getting pretty full and it's known as the spectrum crisis, or the spectrum crunch. With the onset of COVID and our adaption and changes, that's also then led to us using a lot more of the wifi and internet far earlier in earlier time periods than in the coming years.
So in which case the spectrum crunch or spectrum crisis has come forward a number of years. In addition to that, sadly, some people utilize the bandwidth for less positive purposes. The Cyber hackers and others, they've utilized the down turn in corporate to also maximize the number of attacks. And in sort of the first half of 2020, there were 4.83 million attacks in terms of cyber areas and the groups that the tackled were e-commerce and healthcare, educational services.
It's important because part of that great utilization or absorption of our bandwidth is coming from these hackers and people who are actually utilizing and setting up these emails that create scatter gun and other things to then absorb more internet use. So it is really quite considerable.
And there's a 47% increase in average broadband use in Q1 of 2020 versus 2019, and in May, 2020, in some areas it was up 70%.
Li-Fi
So the good news is, we shouldn't panic too much about wifi because right around the corner. and I mean, round the corner, cause it's been 16 years in the making is Li-Fi, which is short for light fidelity.
This is wireless communication technology, which utilizes led lighting to transmit data and position between devices effectively wireless as a result of that, the speeds that can be achieved, it has attracted a lot of attention and you can use it in all sorts of settings.
So Pure Li-Fi based in Edinburgh, for example, has been involved in over 200 project trials in over 20 countries. It's seen also not just as a compliment to wifi, but it could also replace it in some circumstances. It's more of a compliment to provide super fast speeds, reduce some of that spectrum crunch that's coming. It's not limited by the spectrum crunch, which is good.
It improves security, it doesn't pass through walls. So we can see in the future, more people in their homes where they have a home office probably wishing to introduce, Li-Fi into the room via the led lights, for improved security.
It also uses less energy, and it's actually less costly and it's more easy to deploy. And the reason I raise this is because in 2021, the Li-Fi global standard will then be ready and published. And that will allow all the major companies who are working with this life by global standards, then move together as one. And when you have that common language approach and sync synchronicity, or synchronicity between the different companies that helps accelerate this use and adoption.
Building Asset Monitoring/Digital Twinning
On to digital twinning, which is really gathering pace, particularly for the future of building asset monitoring. It's interlinked with building information monitoring and the future potential of sensors is really quite exciting, both in energy building occupant use and various other features within our buildings and also our infrastructure.
A digital building twin needs to be able to associate and connect to buildings design, and also its utilization preferably in a single model and that mimics and also predicts the building's operation and performance.
The one thing I would say is that we use entirely prediction models. We know that part of the current energy performance gap is because some of the existing prediction models and assumptions we've made and the energy performance of buildings were not correct, or the assumptions then increased.
And the variation of our assumptions and our energy performance gap analysis then increase the uncertainty. So the good news is because of the reduction in the cost of sensors and the real time information, which we can now provide, what we will see in future is housing associations, local authorities, commercial building operators, people who run estates, for various buildings, university building and estates, NHS, are going to integrate the full digital models of their buildings.
They'll have real-time energy utilization monitoring, and in addition to that, the potential is with the increased use of in-situ sensors, because costs are rapidly coming down, you can now create an accelerated action plan, plus the optimization of your decision-making in the buildings or infrastructures operation. And this is where digital twinning could take us in the future, which is very exciting.
Changing City Centres & Urban Areas Post-Covid
With COVID, there's been lots of changes as you will be aware. And of course the lack of people going in to work because they're working from home, it's creating an adaption and also a requirement for city authorities to think about how they adapt and renew their city centres.
In addition to that, we have what is the growth and the potential of 20 minute neighbourhoods, which are in suburban or other parts of the cities where people feel that they have access to and can live fairly sustainably within their own neighbourhood. Within a 20 minute walk or cycle, and that all of the facilities and services are there and particularly more so if people can do also homeworking.
So one of the things I just would like to raise is the idea that we're going to be looking at in Edinburgh is a potential utilization of gap sites within future 20 minute neighbourhoods. When we're looking at a 20 minute neighbourhood plan, what are the potential gaps? If there are gap infill fill sites or regeneration sites, how do you align the 20 minute neighbourhood aspirations with the future utilizations of those gaps sites? And also the integration with transport needs and also the amenities.
And it's all sorts of things that could be changing. For example, nursery provision locally, because people are no longer going to their office as much than actually working from home. And in fact, they would rather use the nurseries, which are close to the home as opposed to the one that was near the city centre near their office. So in terms of that, we've also got changes to the night-time economy and city centre hospitality and cultural factors to come to with our future buildings, where there are changes of uses coming.
Future Buildings - Change Of Use
And we know from the banking sector between 2003 - 2008, the huge number of banks that then ran, built new buildings, moved into different or brand new category buildings. And that left a huge number of office buildings and other things that came up through refurbishment or change of use. And we see the same going forward again. So in all likelihood, if this is the case, then be aware, it's very useful to look out for the opportunities for refurbishment, towards net zero.
Before you even touch the building that you're going to convert or for change of use, do a sound installation test. First, before you put any holes in walls, wood floors, do the sound insulation test. This will avoid over specification, allows you to assess the existing sound insulation requirements, whether it be for domestic or non domestic.
And there we've seen entrepreneurs Xu Weiping, uh, putting forward their plans for the East of London to turn 20 offices for 2000 individual pods. So it really quite exciting different changes to come.
Future EE Measures and Net Zero Policies
I'd like to spend a few minutes if I may on the future and timeline of energy efficiency measures. There is a lot of activity come over the next 30 years, but specifically in the next 15 years. And so I've put together here a small timeline of some of the changes, which are occurring across the UK, uh, where it's an England or Scotland or Wales, and some of the features that are on the targets around net zero.
The top half of the line is referring to domestic properties, and the lower half below the timeline refers to general policies or non domestic buildings. Also, whatever happens there is a huge amount of positive work to come in terms of conversions, change of use energy, retrofit measures and energy efficiency measures, and the utilization of low carbon and renewable technologies on the existing stock.
And one of the earliest targets that's been set by anywhere in the UK by a local authority is Edinburgh and Glasgow, which have set a 2030 net zero target, which is a tough ask, lot of activity to be done there. And it's suspected that many other local authorities may pull forward their targets also to move towards the 2030, as opposed to a later period
Mixing Terms: Net Zero, Carbon Neutral, Zero Carbon
fixing of terms net zero carbon neutral zero carbon net zero is not the same as carbon neutral in the full sense of net zero part of net zero is similar to carbon neutral, but not all. So just be careful. Carbon neutral has an accepted international PAS2060 document guidance, which is really useful, very helpful to everybody. However, net zero does not.
So of course, many governments and others have given the policy of aiming for net zero, but actually the definition of net zero and how we measure and calculate and assess any standardized format for net zero is not yet in place.
So in the interim, quite a few people will adopt the carbon neutral approach until such time as the net zero is fully ready. But with the ambitions to moving into net zero, there are six or seven different areas of net zero to consider and different types of net zero targets.
You might consider your client that you consider just net zero operational. They might look at construction and operational. They might look at a science-based target or SBTi, which is slightly, or certainly more onerous than, than net zero operational, just construction. It goes into the full embodied pathway and also the third sector and the third Avenue of where you're sourcing materials and your supply chains are sourcing materials. Then there's advanced net zero. And also beyond the net zero, where you become net zero negative.
Perhaps you'll offset your greenhouse gases. This isn't always accepted in all of the schemes. So just be careful and some very positive news in the sense that because the governments have not moved quick enough and the international standards committees, haven't really been moving as fast as industry with light and give them that net zero and climate emergency is so important.
The good news is that the former governor of the bank of England, Mark Carney working with over 50 major companies around the world is looking to establish a succinct and standardized uniform and trusted, robust approach towards carbon offsetting and also the calculations of carbon. And this is incredibly important when carbon offsetting comes into play and how this is assessed.
Finally, just to mention that, be careful if you claim net zero. The advertising standards authority in 2011 ruled that a company which has actually advertised their products to be net zero was incorrect and misleading because in actual fact, whilst the company said the product was net zero, it had in fact utilized carbon processes, during the manufacturing and also its transport, and therefore could not advertise itself as being carbon zero.
Maintaining Net Zero Momentum
We need to maintain the net zero momentum and that's important, but we have a bit of a problem whilst we're waiting for others to agree carbon calculations, definitions, and wants to be included or not with the numerical assessment, we might lose the opportunity to crack on with the existing good practice.
For example, I've said to a few organizations that the work they're doing in offsite construction and waste reduction, isn't actually included in some of the net zero requirements. So in some cases, one or two organizations, might say why are we doing all these great sustainability, environmentally friendly things if it's actually not going to be included properly within net zero? So my suggestion is that we maintain kind of net zero momentum. We would like to get to that. Could we introduce an interim framework now that allows us to capture all of the great things the industry is doing, which I call horizon factors.
They're offsite construction, they are designed for manufacturing, the design for future disassembly that will support our future generations in the material assets of buildings and infrastructure they will inherit from us in a hundred or 200 years time.
These horizon factors are circular economy approaches and also sustainability. So in essence, by involving these in horizon net zero, there are a number of benefits towards a future carbon legacy as outlined here on the slide, the various bullet points.
And now taking this forward into a calculation, we could currently, for example, look at net zero factors for calculation of our carbon emissions equivalent for net zero construction and our upfront carbon, leading up to that both for new build, refurb and operation.
So we can actually produce now the potential reporting outputs for a numeric carbon value, but there are many other things that we do in the state strategies are building another operational strategies, which also support legacy factors, which may not currently be.
Supporting Built Environment Net Zero Strategy
As I mentioned before, including in net zero, our sustainable sourcing of materials, designing for future, just assembly utilization of off site utilization of digital twinning and various other features, incorporation of renewable energies.
These are all playing a key part that may not yet be included in carbon calculations as yet for net zero. Hopefully they will be fully and be standardized in the future. So my suggestion is that we still continue in net zero where we can, and we try and keep the momentum going and all of these horizon factors we're doing.
And then when it's time in the future, we can then calculate all of this more effectively than we could then almost back date and look at how, what were the carbon savings of that time? Now we know the calculation assessment process for all these great things we've done over the coming years.
So finally, just embedding this approach, we can calculate net zero carbon operations within the net zero carbon construction. We embed a horizon factors in our procurement and our design approach and in our build and operational approach that builds up that gives us horizon net zero.
It gives us some time whilst those around the world and international standards are readying and standardizing, what will be the zero embodied carbon approach. And when that's ready, then we move into that net zero/embodied carbon approach without fear of legal complications, because of definitions that weren't set or calculations that weren't set.
We, first of all, go after it are carbon negative and new build beyond that. And then our carbon negative and existing buildings, all of this helps in that timeline to reduce by 2040, 2045 and 2050, our carbon
So we've covered a lot in a short space of time, but I hope that's been useful and that may spark some thoughts and interest.
Thank you very much.
Many thanks to Sean for putting his thoughts together for us, and to follow on from that we'll now take a quick look at how upcoming changes to the building regulations will help move housing towards a lower carbon future.
In 2019 the UK government in its spring statement outline a commitment to introduce a specific "Future Homes" standard before 2025 to futureproof housing practice and provide for a structured roadmap towards decarbonizing the UK housing sector, which currently accounts for around 20% of CO2 emissions.
The intention was that these changes would get underway this year with the introduction of the 2020 edition of Part L in England & Wales, which acts as an intermediate "stepping stone" towards the introduction of the 2025 standards. As with many things this year however, it looks likely that the timescales might slip a little.
Future Homes Standard, Part L Revisions
There are a number of aims driving these changes.
The first is to move the build environment away from fossil fuels and towards a more grid-electric based approach which is more easily moved towards decarbonisation without directly impacting homeowners.
The second is to move the skill base, common practice and supply chains of the construction industry towards this. For example currently over a million gas boilers are installed per year, compared to 20,000 heat pump systems so immediately swapping these systems would not be practical in production-capacity terms never mind when we factor in the availability of qualified installers.
Finally the consultation proposes specific measure to address the performance gap between "as designed and tested" or ADT performance, and "as built in service" performance or ABIS.
Regular viewers of our webinars will remember that these concepts already appeared in the 2020 revisions of BS5250, and the future home consultation expands this further by considering verification and test methodologies to ensure the specified products and system are used correctly and the perform as intended by designers.
Future Home Specifications
So might the specification of a "future home" look like, the 2020:Part L consultation outlines two approaches under consideration as an interim step, with aspects of both likely to form the basis of the 2025 standards:
Option 1, referred to as "Future Homes Fabric" proposes a 20% improvement over current Part L standards for CO2 emission achieved through a fabric first approach, with insulation, glazing and airtightness specs brought to the fore. This spec may still use gas boilers, but supplements by technology such as waste water heat recovery.
Option 2 "Fabric + Technology" is less onerous regarding fabric standards, but places considerably more emphasis on low-carbon heating such as heat pumps, renewable energy systems like PV and even systems such as distributed district heating networks in higher density areas. This would deliver a 31% reduction in emissions over Part L:2016.
At an estimate £4847 per home, the Fabric + Technology approach increases the build cost by almost double the increase of Option 1, but delivers substantially greater savings on energy bills at £257/year compared to £59/year.
Its also proposed to remove fuel factors from assessments, reflecting that grid-electric heating now has lower carbon emissions than gas heating. Shifting housing to more electric heating, both via heat pumps and less efficient direct heating, also allows the continuing efforts to decarbonise grid generation to reduce the carbon emissions of housing without affecting homeowners directly.
While the u-values and airtightness levels in the Part L:2020 consultation do not advance far beyond the current backstop levels, these more subtle changes show the intention is not so much to push the existing methods further as to alter the range of approaches used towards decarbonising housing.
Combining these approaches gives us an idea of where the 2025 spec my be heading, with near-passive standard fabric insulation and advanced low carbon systems, however the standard is not expected to be overly prescriptive beyond setting backstop levels, leaving the way clear for innovative approaches to meeting the requirements.
We've covered the design and technology used in passive and low energy homes in a previous webinar, so if it's of particular interest you can can go back and check that out here on our youtube channel.
Upskilling & ABIS
These specification improvements only go so far though, and ensuring the as built performance both meets the design spec and can be accurately assessed is increasingly important. As performance levels increase the tolerances of materials and installation become tighter, meaning any installation problems can have a significant impact.
The proposal therefore includes measures to ensure not only that minimum build quality standards are achieved, but that the specified products and systems are used correctly. Any changes to the specified systems would therefore require re-assessment to ensure the effect of the changes on the design are accounted for.
By paying closer attention to achieving these standards, the draft documents aim to increase cross disciplinary understanding, ensuring everyone involved in a project both on and off-site are aware of the implication of their design and workmanship.
The principal build quality issues identified are insulation gaps, thermal bridging and several aspects of airtightness, and steps are outlined to mitigate each through a combination of: installer training and awareness; good design and detailing; and finally appropriate usage of products and materials.
Insulation gaps occur where poorly fitting insulation boards allow a significant degree of convective airflow through gaps between adjacent board, and between boards and surrounding structure. This airflow effectively bypasses the thermal insulation, leading to a shortfall in energy performance when the is-situ energy use compared to design values.
While its tempting to think of this as purely an installation issue, steps can be taken at design stage to reduce the potential for installation problems to arise. Using continuous layers of insulation, and sizing areas such that cutting of boarding is minimised can dial out problems before they arise. Ensuring materials are specified appropriately can also avoid situations where a contractor must work out how to fit a square peg in a round hole, often with little guidance as the implications.
Thermal bridging by contrast is largely a design problem, where ensuring insulation layers are continuous and no parts of the heated envelope are left uninsulated happens mostly on the drawing board.
In this case the primary issue is ensuring the other parts of the structure are able to accommodate a layer of insulation. While features like foundation and floor zones are typically fairly straightforward to adequately insulate, door and window openings can present more challenging scenarios.
Good material choice is often the key to achieving an effective thermal bridge design, where balancing thickness, thermal conductivity, structural and hygrothermal properties is critical. Systems such as our spacetherm aerogel range can allow thermal performance to be boosted at any point of the building envelope with minimal thickness, and without trapping moisture. Its also available as a Euroclass A2 rated variant for use in fire-critical situations.
The effects of material choices can also be less obvious. For example, using a non-ventilate roof construction with an underlay such as our Roofshield allows insulation to be packed fully into the eaves of a roof, extending over the wall head without any concerns regarding compromised airflow.
Airtightness
The consultation proposals around airtightness cover four areas: Incoming Services, Airtightness of Structure, Airtightness Around openings, and internal service runs.
This is a topic we've covered frequently in our webinar series so far, and a lot of the build quality issues identified are very familiar, and as fabric insulation levels increase, minimising this air leakage become a bigger influencing factor on the overall energy performance.
Already homes contain a huge variety of services and other penetrations, and smart controls, systems monitoring, automation, AV and networking systems will only increase this, making robust solutions for integrating building services without compromising airtightness critical going forward. This is particular true in high density development where simply using wi-fi for everything may not be ideal due to interference concerns.
As with a lot of these build quality issues, the solution of sealing the services is deceptively simple, but in practice it requires careful design to minimise air barrier penetrations, and well trained installers afforded the time and space in tight schedules to do the job right.
Here again though there exist some technical solutions that can design out a lot of these problems if correctly executed and integrated into the design at the correct stages.
Moving the airtight layer well away form the service zones by using a membrane such as our vapour permeable Wraptite air barrier provides a durable and robust solution to ensuring design airtightness target are met.
Solutions like wraptite can be applied to most types of base construction from traditional timber frame to high rise modular developments, but not all construction type are created equal when it comes to airtightness and low carbon construction.
Offsite/MMC
Between the drive to reduce carbon emissions associated with the built environment and the necessity to adapt construction sites to accommodate social distancing and covid-secure requirements, moving processes offsite is increasingly attractive.
Although manufacturing timber frames or structural insulated panels in factories is nothing new, these systems along with cross laminated timber open up important advantages as regards quality control and fine tolerance manufacturing that are key to closing the performance gap between ADT and ABIS.
The use of sustainably sourced timber also reduces the carbon intensity of the project, giving a double benefit alongside the simpler process to achieving low energy use.
Alongside these panel based systems, volumetric systems are increasing finding use, across both high and low rise sectors. In these systems fully complete modules with services, membranes and insulation already incorporated are assembled offsite then delivered and connected into whatever configuration the project requires.
What all these systems have in common is the use of offsite assembly, where the more tightly controlled factory environment facilitates closer tolerances and reduces unexpected problems. Particularly when aligned with the principles of design for manufacturing and assembly which focus on ensuring designs minimise different components and facilitate the simplest assembly process possible.
A factory environment makes it far more straightforward to integrate systems and services on a schedule which minimises the impact of one process on another.
The foundation of all the factors we've discussed today is a well considered and fully integrated design process with designers, contractors and suppliers all working together to ensure high performance specifications are successfully executed to produce high quality buildings.
Making sure information is available to everyone seamlessly, and good communication is maintained throughout the project is key, and with that in mind we'll now move onto the Q&A session.
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