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Inside the ‘world-leading’ research facility testing new homes’ resilience to extreme weather

Energy House 2.0 was completed in February 2022 (Handout)
Energy House 2.0 was completed in February 2022 (Handout)

A pioneering research facility which will advance the standards of eco-friendly homes and test new technology is to launch in Salford on January 12 – the first of its kind in the world.

Conceived by the University of Salford, the facility, known as Energy House 2.0, will research and test new ways of powering, heating and insulating homes.

Developed over six years, the aim of the £16 million project is to reduce carbon emissions for new builds, using its “industry leading results” to support the delivery of net zero homes – in the UK and beyond.

With two chambers — each large enough to fit 24 double decker buses — Energy House 2.0 can simulate weather conditions to test the energy performances of buildings. It can recreate gale force winds, rain, snow, ice and solar gain, as well as temperatures from –20 to 40 degrees Celsius.

There are two homes inside Energy House 2.0 (Handout)
There are two homes inside Energy House 2.0 (Handout)

Because researchers can tightly control the environment —temperatures are adjustable to within half a degree— the process of testing new homes will become significantly quicker, taking a few weeks, rather than months or years.

Two homes have been constructed inside the facility to test low-carbon innovations.

One, called The Future Home and built by Bellway Homes, will trial the UK’s first roof-mounted air source heat pump, along with underfloor, infrared and ambient heating, mechanical ventilation, double versus triple glazing, enhanced insulation, and a prototype shower which recovers heat from wastewater.

The other, named eHome2, is piloting next generation heating and ventilation technologies, as well as smart technology which will enable residents to change the temperature and turn on the shower at the click of a button.

It has been built by Barratt Developments in partnership with constructions solutions manufacturer Saint-Gobain.

Inside Bellway’s The Future Home (Handout)
Inside Bellway’s The Future Home (Handout)

In a bid to reduce the construction footprint of housing produced at scale, eHome2 also uses weberwall brick, a brick cladding alternative, and has an innovative timber frame system that can accommodate more advanced ventilation and heat recovery systems.

“This is pioneering research and we were treading on new ground here,” says Jamie Bursnell, innovation and technical manager for Bellway.

“We will be trying to find the balance between lowering carbon emissions and keeping running costs as low as possible. This research is aimed at testing out different technologies, exploring the questions ordinary people will have and working out how to take the benefits into their homes.”

According to Greenpeace, the UK has the least efficient housing stock in western Europe, with energy consumption in and around the home accounting for a quarter of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Reducing the UK’s carbon footprint will require a change in the design of new buildings, improving their insulation and heating, as well as a comprehensive upgrade and retrofit programme of existing housing stock. And, with energy bills at a record high, the impetus for eco-friendly homes has never been greater.

“The growing challenges of climate change and the cost-of-living crisis mean we need to consider how we build and operate our homes,” says Professor Will Swan, Director of Energy House Labs at the University of Salford.

“Energy efficient, high performing homes can change people’s lives. The importance of this agenda is one of the main reasons behind the University of Salford’s major investment in Energy House 2.0, which is a critical piece of research infrastructure that can help us find solutions to these problems.

“Our cutting-edge research is already having real world impact. As the cost of gas and electricity keeps going up and up, this work is even more important to create a sustainable and economically viable future for this country and the world.”