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not fit for purpose-03

Not Fit for Purpose

I am a property designer and live in the pretty market town of Oakham in Rutland. For those not familiar, Rutland is pretty unique. Not only does it have the biggest man-made reservoir in the UK, it is also the smallest county. With a population of only 10,922 (according to the last census) it has earned the slogan Small County Big Pond. Although what is not unique about Rutland though are the vast amounts of new estates that are engulfing our countryside at a rapid rate.

I drive by these most days and I have to say as a designer I am incredibly offended. Is it because they are badly designed and as dull as dish water? Well yes; but that’s another story. What offends me the most is that they are actually not fit for purpose. The reason why I will get to later.

Firstly, I need to pose a question: would the average Brit buy a family car that only did five miles to the gallon? I suspect the answer would be NO. Who in their right mind would buy a family car that inefficient? Even the Ford Model T did an average twenty miles to the gallon.

As people we always seem to crave the latest gadgets. We all drive around in the latest cars using the latest technology. We all have the latest TV’s and smart phones. But then we want to live in a house that visually harks back to a bygone era and is about as technologically advanced as a Ford Model T from 1919.

Motor manufactures spend vast amounts of time and money making sure their products are the most efficient and technologically advanced they can be for the markets they are being sold in. Competition keeps them on their toes and makes sure innovation and creativity is kept alive and kicking. In recent years, the electric car maker Tesla has raised the bar (massively) and now all the other car makers are playing catch-up and designing sexy electric cars. When it comes to cars and gadgets, standing still on innovation is the equivalent of going back a hundred years.

So, why are we building houses that actually look like they have been designed a hundred years ago? Houses built in 1919 were built for the lifestyle then using the technology available at the time. Houses built today should be built for today’s lifestyle using today’s technology.

Now, putting this all into perspective and going back to my earlier analogy. You wouldn’t buy a family car that only does five miles to the gallon, but you are happy to buy a house that is just as inefficient that you need to spend vast amounts of money on essentially what is fuel to run it. For this reason, most of the new builds today are NOT FIT FOR PURPOSE. It’s a scandal of epic proportions.

No one really wants to live in the past. Otherwise, we would all have outside toilets and bath time would entail hand-filling the tin bathtub with buckets of hot water heated from the open fire.

People underestimate the importance of a well-designed home. A well-designed home should be a space that gives you energy, inspires you, and connects with you in a way that you should feel part of it. It should add joy to your life! The people of Britain are currently being robbed of this by being sold bland, badly designed houses that more reflect 1919 than 2019.

In an era where we are trying to end our indulgence in fossil fuels we should be designing and building homes to almost passive standards that are Zero Energy Homes, which cost nothing to run. Why on earth in 2019 are we building houses that are so inefficient?

The fact that new houses in this day and age require any energy at all is just down to bad design. The whole point of a new house is that you have a blank canvas. That is, the freedom to create a house suitable for today’s lifestyles and energy requirements.

Today, all new-builds should be ‘Zero Energy’ houses that over a 12 month period don’t actually cost anything to run. As in whatever energy is purchased over the odd winter day is offset against what is sold back to the grid during the summer months.

Designing a Zero Energy house is actually very simple and very achievable. You just need to follow some basic steps, such as building orientation (most important), insulation, heating, energy efficiency, thermal bridging, heat recovery, energy recovery and energy storage.

I go into these basic steps in more detail on my website www.ashdesign.com but they are not rocket science and with todays technology are very easily achievable. Especially on new-builds where you have a complete blank canvas. So why aren’t all large new-build developments south facing? Get this wrong and there is no point going any further.

You can stick as many solar panels on your roof as you like, but it’s a bit like trying to polish a turd. Unless your house is ultra energy efficient in the first place, you are effectively pouring water into a leaking bucket - resulting in an ineffective vicious circle. Ask Dear Liza.

So the big question is, why in the UK are we still building houses that are not fit for purpose? Is it because the government doesn’t care because it’s not vote winning? Is it because councils lack the vision or funding? Or is it because big developers build purely for profit and nothing else?

Well, to a certain degree, all of the above. But the way we choose and buy our houses in the UK is also massively to blame. But that’s another story… (actually, my next blog)

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