Rupert Kazlauciunas of Zehnder Group UK discusses how technology such as AI assisted ventilation can tackle some of the housing sector’s chronic issues
What connects net zero targets, smart devices, social housing, the UK’s housing crisis and healthy homes?
All these jigsaw pieces slot together to create a picture of the chronic issues facing the UK’s homes and the new technologies that may help offer the solutions needed.
Net zero & smart homes
“I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is.” – Greta Thunberg.
The recent report, ‘Net Zero’, pledged to reduce UK greenhouse gas emissions to create a net zero economy by 2050.
Its implications include a rapid expansion of renewable and low carbon power generation to allow activities, such as heating, to be electrified.
Switching homes to low carbon heating will cost £15bn each year, requiring large-scale deployment of heat pumps, district heating and hydrogen technologies. And, it also needs us to expand energy efficiency in homes.
Help may be at hand in the unlikely disguise of AI.
There are already 57 per cent of our homes using at least one smart device. And it’s not just lights and entertainment that is getting smarter – smart heating could play a role in the net zero drive.
Smart thermostats offer greater energy savings and efficiencies of up to 19 per cent, by switching off the heating as the desired temperature is reached or by allowing your mobile to turn the heating off and on remotely.
But, the future could be even smarter. Heating devices directly connected into supply data could store energy to use at times when demand on the National Grid is high. Automated algorithms will allow devices to know that, when it’s windy, the grid has greener and cheaper energy.
Social housing, energy efficiency & healthy homes “Social housing providers are doing better than the private landlords or the home ownership sector, accounting for 17 per cent of homes but only 10 per cent of carbon emissions. In new homes and in retro-fitting, this sector has led the way. Social housing can raise the bar and set the standards for all housing provision.”– Lord Best, president of the Sustainable Energy Association (SEA).
Sounds good? But here’s his colleague: “There are significant obstacles we face for social housing to lead the way in reaching net zero: stable and consistent policy together with funding support is required.” – Lesley Rudd, chief executive of the SEA.
It may be that the obstacles run deeper than this.
The ambitious target of providing 300,000 new homes by the mid-2020s to address the chronic housing shortage in England represents a great opportunity to introduce best practice for energy-efficient homes.
But, the proportion of homes that social housing will provide currently stands at just 3 per cent.
Homeless charity Shelter has already done its sums: at least three million new social homes are needed in the next 20 years. And Kate Henderson, chief executive of the NHF, concurs that ‘relying on private developers is fatally flawed. Without investment in affordable housing, it isn’t possible to build enough homes to ensure everyone has somewhere stable and affordable to live.’
Complicating this already complex situation is the pressure that’s being applied for homes to be affordable, energy-efficient, and also healthy.
We’ve seen how targets for net zero and ending the housing shortage need investment in social housing. We’ve also seen how smart devices offer a solution to achieving energy efficiency.
But, we must now consider why more affordable, energy efficient homes will fail to connect all the dots. They run the risk of failing to provide long-term solutions to our need to protect the environment and to provide a safe environment to live in.
The state of our housing’s effects on our health was laid bare by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Healthy Homes and Buildings. Contemporary building design and renovation is found to be seriously wanting – and most times it’s a sole focus on providing ‘energy efficiency’ that is the culprit.
In ‘sealed’ environments, without adequate ventilation, occupants are at risk of overheating and health risks from poor indoor air quality.
Poor IAQ caused by toxins and chemicals is estimated to annually cost the UK 204,000 healthy life years. Due to climate change, urban concentration and incentivisation to focus on energy efficiency alone, there has been an increase in the overall temperature of our homes.
The committee insists that “the Government should end the practice of improving energy efficiency without due consideration to the consequences for health.”
But, flicking through the 300-page report on achieving net zero, you’ll find overheating mentioned once (p242) and ventilation glossed over as part of a list just four times (p33, p195, p201 and p272).
Ventilation is very much the missing link that can connect the dots between net zero targets, smart devices, social housing, the UK’s housing crisis and healthy homes.
And you won’t be surprised to learn that AI-enabled ventilation is already very much a reality.
Rupert Kazlauciunas is technical product manager ‑ MVHR at Zehnder Group UK Limited