At first glance, the Victorian Terrace does not appear to be so much the ‘home of the future’ as Robert Llewellyn from discovery company Treehugger puts it, but more the moder,n present-day home.
To be sure, by modern energy efficiency standards, The Victorian Terrace a demonstration project at the BRE Innovation Park in Watford in London’s North-East, is hardly what one would call shabby. Gas and electric smart meters connect to an in-home display, which tells home occupants how much energy appliances use and provides tips on lowering consumption. A voltage optimiser, sitting beside the fuse box helps to maintain a consistent voltage for appliances around the home at around the most efficient level of 220 volts.
Loft insulation and cavity wall insulation save around £250 ($AU390.25) per year. Triple-glazed glass windows also help cut costs, as does the alternative heating system, which produces heat from fresh air from outside the home. Filtered bathroom taps maintain water pressure but reduce water wastage, reducing the volume of water which householders both consume and have to heat.
Outside the home, a 1.4 kilowatt hour solar panel system saves around £400 in direct savings in addition to incentive payments from the British government for surplus electricity contributed back into the grid. The roof is south-facing, which is critical for solar power in the northern hemisphere.
While all that may make it seem like a fairly ordinary – if extra-green – house rather than some futuristic ideal, that is actually part of the point. Through this house, BRE is trying to show that it is ‘ordinary’ homes, rather than anything you might see in a modern version of Back to the Future, that will serve as the house of the future.
To be sure, compared to the original stable block, built in 1855 and previously exhibiting all of the problems associated with pre-1919 housing (non-cavity brick walls, rattling single-glazed sash windows, a clay tile roof in poor condition, dampness, disrepair and poor thermal performance), updating all this to modern day ‘best practice’ standards had made a huge difference.
Yes, it really is a house of the future
Beyond that, this place has a few neat tricks which take it above and beyond modern homes.
Most folks, at least in Australia, do not yet have electric cars, so do not as yet need the 16 amp electric vehicle charger attached to the outside wall. For those who have electric cars or are looking at getting one in the future, the modern charger attached to the outside wall of this home is fully weatherproof with proper weatherproof circuits – something that might not be the case for older models which have been simply stuck on the wall from previous years.
Finally, there are the gizmos that help people not just control energy usage in the home but also make their homes safer.
Smart plugs, which plug into ordinary sockets, provide not just specific information about how much energy washing machines or other appliances are using, but also have the ability to turn appliances on and off remotely with the flick of a switch via iPhone applications or text messages. For homeowners, this means no more worrying about whether or not they remembered to turn the heater or iron off. Those wishing to create impressions about being home when they are really out, too, can switch lights on and off at their discretion from remote locations.
The smart plugs connect to a small white box which in turn connects to the router, creating an effective local area network through which different devices in the home can effectively talk to each other.
On a final and related note, the house’s mobile heating control system allows householders to manually control the temperature of their home, also from remote locations. Someone who was, for instance, 10 minutes away from their home could turn the heat on remotely so as to have the home nice and warm when they walk in the front door.
This system, like the smart plugs, is operated by iPhone applications or text messages and can either be installed with a new boiler or retrofitted to existing systems.
The bottom line is that this ‘house of the future’ is not something out of a science fiction movie, but it will combine good engineering, design and construction principles, many of the positive features of today’s modern homes, and some additional features which, to many homeowners, still seem ‘way out there’ for now.