Sustainable construction at the heart of NW Bicester

A2Dominion’s pioneering development NW Bicester currently under construction on the edge of Bicester, is the only true zero carbon development of its size in the UK

As lead developer, A2Dominion’s long term vision is to establish a community of up to 6,000 homes. The initial phase of 393 highly energy efficient homes are arranged across 51 acres – of which 40 per cent will be green open space. The first 91 are set for completion towards the end of 2015.

NW Bicester project director Steve Hornblow, sets out its true zero carbon principles: “The government’s standard for zero carbon is based on a home’s regulated energy which includes average energy use for heating, lighting and hot water.

“True zero carbon takes that definition further into a much more realistic – and demanding – measure of how much carbon an entire home, including its residents, is really producing. It takes into account all the extra household activities, such as computers, TVs and everything else that makes up the modern lifestyle.”

The result is intended to be a community which has sustainability embedded within it, but with an equal measure of the traditional. All the properties on the first phase are being built to Code for Sustainable Homes Level 5, allowing residents to make greener choices out of convenience rather than coercion.

Some features are obvious: the average home will have 34m2 of solar PV panels, streets are angled on a south-north axis to maximise solar energy, cycle routes and walkways will link neighbourhoods, a combined heat and power plant will provide hot water and heating, and every home will have its own smart tablet clearly showing energy use and real-time public transport updates to make it simple to leave the car at home.

For the NW Bicester project team, however, that principle began long before the keenly anticipated moment when the first residents will walk through their front doors.

With a target of reducing the carbon costs of construction by 30 per cent, its influence has been felt everywhere: the choice of materials, where construction takes place, the building techniques, choice of contractors, approval processes, and much more.

Hornblow said: “We’re doing something for the first time, so our approach is flexible as we learn lessons, putting the lessons learnt in practise.”

The residents of future years have been part of the long term plans, not just the first owners. For instance, working on an assumption of a two degree rise in climate temperature by 2050 – and a peak increase of 10 degrees – the windows were also constructed so that external blinds can be retrofitted to shade the inside. Ensuring homes do not over heat in summer.

To avoid reinventing the wheel, A2Dominion is also using the same sustainability consultant that advised the London 2012 Olympics on its strategy. As part of this process there are two researchers on site to build an archive of data by which to set the standard in the industry for future true zero carbon developments.
The time invested has enabled us to ensure that the right balance is struck between product cost-efficiency and the ruling principle of a true zero carbon development.

For example, the choice of wooden triple-glazed windows was only made after balancing the need to paint them every five years against their superior carbon credentials over plastic alternatives.

Much of the construction is taking place off site to reduce the amount of packaging produced and transportation emissions. Cutting mileage is why local contractors are hired too, as well as to inject sustainable investment and jobs into the local economy.

Targets include zero waste to landfill so everything is recycled including plasterboard and soil, which is reused on site. It’s meant working closely with contractors and sub-contractors so the entire operation is pulling in the same direction.

A major technical challenge was upgrading the local National Grid to cope with the sheer amount of energy which will be created by NW Bicester – one substation had to be replaced by four.

Hornblow added: “The homes look traditional and the technology is tried-and-tested but it’s the sheer scale of its use that has made the difference at NW Bicester. It’s built into everything instead of just being added as an occasional afterthought.

“For the residents, we’re aiming to encourage a lifestyle of modern sustainability but with old fashioned values. There’ll be a shopping list of options, such as promotions on electric vehicles, car clubs and bicycle maintenance. Even if residents don’t choose all of them, by just living in their home they’ll be more sustainable.

“I’m confident we will achieve true zero carbon because of the work we have done and the dedication that has run all the way through the project.”

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