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Super E aims higher
Published:  22 August, 2008

“Normal” looking Super E homes built for Downlands Housing Association

Five hundred Super E homes have been completed in the UK, but now the programme is aiming still higher with its EQuilibrium housing concept. Stephen Powney reports

When Canada brought its Super E timber frame housing concept to the UK in 2000, energy efficient/eco housing was still largely an alien concept to the housebuilding industry.

Jeff Culp of the Super E programme said some people looked at the system and thought “we were completely crazy”.

But times, and opinions, change. Just go to Ecobuild next spring in London or check out the targets of the government’s Code for Sustainable Homes (CSH) and you are left in no doubt that “green” is now mainstream. Some of the scoffers are no doubt converts.

Super E, a “holistic” energy-efficient construction method used by 40 or so Canadian companies and backed by the Canadian government, has benefited from its early entrance into the_UK market. Now it has a milestone to celebrate – the completion of its 500th house here. That’s more than all of the other eco housing systems – such as PassivHaus and BedZED – put together.

House 500 was built by Berkeley Homes, which has a partnership with Super E programme member BSW Alouette, at its Holborough development in Kent.

“There are lots of schemes out there and all of them are trying to demonstrate that admirable goals are achievable, but none of them have successfully entered the mainstream of UK housing, except Super E,” said Culp. “Five hundred homes may not be many compared to overall UK construction, but the industry has only recently started to experiment with energy efficient systems. So to reach 500   in such a relatively short time is a huge achievement.”

Super E, he said, would now like to see the UK go further to foster eco housing. “The CSH is still lacking in areas pertaining to what constitutes a healthy home,” he said.

To show its intention to meet still higher standards, the Canadian government has launched a net-zero energy house, based on Super E, in Japan.

The net-zero energy or EQuilibrium house, billed as “the house of tomorrow, today”, is basically a timber frame Super E home with renewable energy technology and is designed to meet the CSH’s highest level 6.

Twelve houses have already been built in Canada as part of a competition and Super E said it would love to do an EQuilibrium demonstration project in Britain.

The Japanese house generates all its own power from a ground source heat pump and photovoltaic (PV) panels covering the whole roof. The 68m2 of PV panels cost a staggering C$40,000.

The Japanese net-zero energy house

Other technologies include a heat recovery system (which uses used warm shower water to pre-warm the mains water) and vacuum insulation panels. Sprayed Icynene foam is the main insulator between timber studs.

The result is an extremely airtight building, with a performance of 0.14W/m2K.
“You almost don’t need any heating. Solar heat gain and heat from people living in the house will pretty much heat the house, it’s that energy efficient,” said Culp. The Japanese builder who constructed the house wants to make the concept into a production house for the Japanese market, starting in September.

The Canadian EQuilibrium homes are being monitored to see whether they are continuing to consume zero energy but there are tentative plans for a 1,500 home commercial phase.
Culp agreed that EQuilibrium is a niche, high-spec product in the short term but is a “natural progression from Super E. The Code for Sustainable Homes is driving us in this direction,” he said.

This begs the question, will Canada drive two brands in the market place – Super E and EQuilibrium?

“It’s difficult enough in a market like the UK that is changing so quickly with so many different new ideas and so many demonstration systems,” he said. “People are confused enough, so we will look to keep the name Super E.”

One area on which Canada hopes to score highly is style, with the net-zero energy house “proving” that a code level 6 house doesn’t have to look like something from the space age, according to Culp.

“It’s too bad that they [highly energy efficiency homes] look so different. That’s not the future in the UK where we have these beautiful traditional looking neighbourhoods.”
He said many builders approach the CSH by putting a wind turbine on a normal house, instead of getting the structure right first.

Affordability is another issue. The Japanese house is for sale at C$500,000, while a similar home completed by the Japanese government for the G8 summit costs C$2m.
Culp admits that these high prices do not send the right message that high-spec, energy-efficient homes are affordable.

In the meantime, the success of Super-E rolls on. Culp said he would like to see three or four more developments of a similar size to the Holborough project.

The Japanese house is for sale at C$500,000

Keywords: Super E Berkeley Homes BSW Alouette