In the first of a two-part feature on the realities of building to the Code, Greenbuild News visits a Southdale Group development in South Yorkshire.

The original plan for the Southdale site on Eldon Road, in Rotherham, was to build three homes to Code level three. But Southdale, a Halifax-based contractor specialising in social housing and public build projects, decided to go further than this and to also build to levels four and five, with the support of Rotherham Council and Chevin Housing Association. Jim Dickens, Southdale’s project manager, explains: “We wanted to know the actual costs involved in building to the higher levels, so we could demonstrate this to our clients and also assess the different technologies available.”

Research project
The Eldon Road homes are also the focus of an academic study conducted by lecturers and students from the School of the Built Environment at Leeds Metropolitan University and the Higher Education and Construction Management Faculty at Leeds College of Building. The research looks at the overall approach to the build programme, gaining a greater insight into the technical skills, experience and building methods used to achieve Code levels three, four and five.

Traditional homes
Throughout the project Southdale has focused on what the end-user wants – a traditional family home with broad appeal. The Code level three property, built using timber frame, illustrates this normality perfectly. “A high-efficiency boiler and a Zenex GasSaver were really all that was needed in addition to the well-insulated envelope to meet level three,” says Jim Dickens. This attention to the building envelope is crucial, according to Trudie McCormick, Southdale’s technical director: “A fabric-first approach ensures that the homes offer a robust solution, minimises the reliance of high-maintenance products, reduces the need for substantial change in lifestyle – although clearly lifestyle is essential to ensure the maximum benefits of energy saving and waste recycling – and leaves homes suitable for further future enhancements.”

But fabric alone is not considered sufficient to meet levels four and five, so these properties also have renewable energy technologies – solar thermal for the Code four house and solar PV for the Code five. The latter also has an extra layer of insulation in the wall and 1,500-litre rainwater harvesting tank in the garden that feeds the toilet and washing machine.

The Eldon Road site was formerly occupied by terraced housing, but it had been derelict for many years and the external environment was also in need of regeneration. A survey revealed it had low ecological value so it was given a massive boost with a planting scheme that introduced nine new species and the installation of bat boxes.

Proven technologies
All the properties utilise proven technologies that have been specified – and monitored – on worldwide projects. The eventual residents might not be familiar with some of the systems but there is nothing experimental about the properties. Trudie McCormick explains: “On this occasion what we hope to have been able to demonstrate is that we have achieved Code levels three, four and five with standardised, tried-and-tested products and components in a way that we can now replicate on a large scale with certainty. That is not to say that we are not looking consistently at new products and innovation, much of which we feel will have a valuable part to play going forward.”

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