Archive for the ‘Housing’ Category

Smart homes: Intelligent heating controls

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Intelligent heating controls (which can also control cooling, such as air conditioning) can be seen as a step beyond smart meters. Smart meters make people aware of their energy use, while intelligent heating controls allow residents to refine their energy use to heat and cool their home in the most efficient way possible.

Intelligent heating controls have two key areas of environmental benefit:

  1. improved control:
  • set time and area preferences, e.g. keeping bedrooms cooler than the rest of the house
  • control heating remotely and automatically turn it off when a house is empty

2. improved efficiency:

  • adjust when the heating switches on throughout the year and respond to outside temperature changes on a daily basis
  • detect occupancy levels to turn heat off in unoccupied areas
  • monitor temperature with a sensor in every room, not just one for the whole house
  • enable more efficient boiler operation

Enabling households to interact more closely with their heating controls, particularly when combined with information from smart meters, will help to raise awareness of energy use and prompt reductions, although this will rely on residents being motivated to engage with the system. But intelligent controls can also deliver energy savings independently of resident involvement by improving the efficiency of theway that heating systems operate. Further benefits will be the ability to integrate and optimise the efficiencies of low carbon systems like solar hot water heating.

Firm evidence on the expected energy savings is hard to obtain. Much of the industry does not have any evidence, as energy efficiency is not yet a selling point for their customers. Control systems in commercial buildings have delivered up to 30 per cent savings, but this is not expected in a domestic setting where systems are smaller and individuals have far greater control over the settings. Research is currently underway to clarify what the expected savings are likely to be. Once this is clearer, controls have the potential to become a serious option for improving a home’s energy efficiency, especially in existing homes where easier energy efficiency options may not be feasible or in homes where the easier options have already been implemented. They can be retrofitted with minimal disruption and will also become more attractive as people become familiar with other intelligent applications, like smart meters.

Housebuilders restart on sites as stock sells quicker than expected

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

Housebuilders are starting construction again, but it will do little to increase historically low levels of output this year.

While several of the major housebuilders released positive trading updates last week – in which they confirmed they would once again start work on new sites – the build programmes are unlikely to push output beyond forecasts of 70,000 new homes in 2009, serving only to replenish dwindling stock levels.

Barratt told shareholders it had 822 unreserved stock units at 30 June, which equates to just less than four weeks’ supply at current sales rates. The figure is down 55 per cent from its 1,821 units at 30 June, 2008.

Bovis Homes has 480 finished homes left, just over half the 754 homes it sold in the six months to 30 June, and well down on the 1,000 it had at the beginning of the year.

Galliford Try has just 80 completed stock units left to sell, compared to 280 a year ago.

And Persimmon said it has 390 sites with stock remaining compared to 460 this time last year. The firm said it now plans to start work on a further 50 new developments over the next six months.

MF Global house building analyst Andrew Gardner said: “The housebuilders have perhaps run down stocks a little quicker than expected.”

But Home Builders Federation director of external affairs, John Slaughter, said he still expected the 2009/10 financial year to be a low point in terms of homes built.

Panmure Gordon analyst Rachael Waring said: “This is a very key point in time for the housebuilders.

“They have got to carefully manage how many new sites they start with the demand for homes. They do not want to find themselves back at the banks in six months’ time looking to borrow more money.”

The Construction Products Association has upped its forecast for homes built in 2009 to 72,000 from 70,000.

The Association forecasts 2010 will see a further increase in production with 99,000 homes built, but it is still well down on 2007’s 182,000.

Four eco-town projects to go-ahead in ‘first wave’

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

The Government has today announced plans to progress with four eco-town schemes across England.

The successful bids – which will still have to obtain planning approval – were named as Rackheath in Norfolk, Whitehill Bordon in East Hampshire, north west Bicester and the China Clay Community scheme near St Austell, Cornwall.

Government officials today said that all four projects were supported by local authorities and met the standards for an “eco-town”.

Housing minister John Healey said that a further two projects – Rossington in South Yorkshire and North-East Elsenham in Essex – still had the potential to be eco-towns, but required more work to iron out certain issues with the bids.

The four “first-wave” settlements will be able to bid for a share of £60 million in Government support for local infrastructure.

Mr Healey said he wanted to see at least six “second-wave” developments. He said up to £5 million was being made available for councils to conduct further planning work on proposals.

10 Key Features in a Home Automation System

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

The ability to manage your home’s electronic systems from one main control system can make your household run smoother, feel better and save energy.

The trick is to find a system that will meet all the demands of your household, now and in the future. Most systems can be tailored by a custom electronics professional to provide all the benefits you desire, but there are some key features that will make his job easier and your interaction with your system more enjoyable.

In no order of importance, here’s our top 10 key features:-

1. Interoperability
The beauty of an automation system is its ability to tie diverse electronic devices together so they can perform as one unified system. Getting these devices to work cohesively can be simple or complex, depending on the “openness” of the automation system. The more open a system is, the easier it will be for the lights, thermostats, audio/video equipment, security devices, motorized shades and other electronics to communicate with each other. A good example of interoperability is having the lights turn off, the thermostats set back when you press a “goodbye” button on a keypad or when a motion sensor notices that you have exited a room.

To support interoperability between multiple electronic devices, manufacturers of home automation systems often form connectivity partnerships with other manufacturers. Automation products should be able to communicate seamlessly with a wide variety of other systems—from architectural lighting and irrigation, to multiroom audio.

Another way automation manufacturers are fostering interoperability is through adherence to technology standards. For example embedded Zigbee wireless control technology into automation products so those products can network easily with other Zigbee-enabled products.

The more connectivity of different devices that occurs between different partners and manufacturer components linking different communication standards has to be adopted, with more choices that need to be made.  “It allows designers/installers to select the best suite products for their clients.”

2. Remote Access
Automation is all about being able to control things in your home, and part of that is being able to change the settings quickly and easily if your plans change. More often than not, plans change when you’re not at home, so being able to communicate those changes with your home automation system remotely is one of the most revered features of an automation system. Remote access capabilities allow you to monitor your home’s environment and alter the settings of the lights, thermostats and other gear if necessary all from your laptop, mobile phone or iTouch. David Slade of Davmark believes that remote monitoring facility should be incorporated as part of the core offering and be provide free of charge from any service caharge. “Why should you pay to access your automation system when you’re already paying for broadband access?” Proive a gateway to link uo to the outside world!

Remote access also allows your installer to tweak your system without having to make a house call, which is always cheaper and more convenient.

3. Expandability
The way you live in your home five years from now will probably be much different than the way you live in your home today. Moreover, technology will continue to evolve, introducing a completely new generation of products to the marketplace. In the future, you may also want to add new rooms—like a recently finished basement or an addition off the back—to your automation network. Or, you may simply want to start out with just a few features when you first put in your system then add new capabilities later as you have the money. For these reasons, it’s important that a home automation system can be easily expanded both vertically to incorporate additional products and horizontally to support additional rooms.

Manufacturers can support vertical and horizontal expandability by designing their systems to speak a common network language, like IP (Internet Protocol), and by offering wireless retrofittable products that can communicate with a home’s existing network of wired products.

4. Upgradeability
Those touchscreens and black boxes may look impressive, but it’s what you don’t see that holds the true power of an automation system. Software is the driving force of an automation system. The more sophisticated that software is, the more the system can do. As technology changes, so must the software. Before you buy any system, be sure the manufacturer (or your installer) will be able to unlock and download software updates automatically.

5. Variety of Interfaces
There are a number of different ways you can control the electronic systems in your home: by pressing the buttons of a handheld remote or wall-mounted keypad, by touching colorful icons on a portable touchpanel or by sliding your finger across your iTouch. Depending on your family dynamic, budget and preferences, you might like to utilize a variety of different controllers (most people do, says David Slade), so make sure the automation manufacturer offers a wide selection of interfaces.

6. Time-Tested
No one, except for serious early-adopters, likes to be the guinea pig, so choose an automation system with a proven track record. Same goes for the person who installs the system into your home. Look for an installer who’s been installing the same systems for a number of years,” suggests David Slade. You should be able to gather some historical background about manufacturers and installers from their company websites.

7. Strong Dealer Network
“You can have great equipment, but you’ll need a highly trained and certified installer in order to get your money’s worth. It’s a no brainier real” says David Slade. Good home automation manufacturers go above and beyond to create a strong brand and support network, by offering continual education and training and by supporting multiple dealers in a single geographic area. For consumers, having more than one dealer to choose from is important. When more than one dealer carries a particular product in your area, pricing is more competitive and should one dealer go out of business, there’s someone else you can call to pick up the pieces.

8. Commitment to Energy-Savings
One of the hottest topics in the consumer media is energy conservation. Automation systems can help save energy by turning off electronics devices automatically, and some do this better than others. Be sure to check out the energy-saving features of a system before you buy.

9. Layer of Protection
Everyone always wonders what happens to an automated house when the power goes out. Does the system forget how to operate the lights when power is restored? If an automation system has the appropriate back-up protection, you won’t have to worry about that.

10. Can-do Attitude
This goes both for the designer, installer and the manufacturer. Automation is only beneficial and practical if it fits your lifestyle. Since everyone’s lifestyle is different, the manufacturer should provide its installers with the tools to customize the system to your specific needs. If there’s something that you want your system to do and your installer says it’s impossible, either he or the manufacturer has failed you. Keep looking.

Housing update

Friday, June 5th, 2009

Hometrack released research on house prices in May, finding prices remained static in May after almost two years of falls. (01 June)According to the latest figures from Land cialis 5mg Registry, annual house prices in England and Wales fell by 16.2 per cent in April, taking the average house price to £152,898. This mirrors the annual house price fall in March. Monthly house prices fell by 0.3% in April compared to a fall in March of 0.4 per cent (Press Release). (01 June)

UK house prices – May 2009

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

UK house prices increased by an average of 2.6% in May compared to April, according to the latest survey from the Halifax.

This rise follows three successive months of falling property prices and means that the annual rate of decline has now eased to 16.3% from 17.7% in April.

“There are some tentative indications of a possible stabilisation in activity, albeit at a low level,” said Nitesh Patel, Halifax’s housing economist.

Lack of new homes nudges up UK house prices

Friday, May 29th, 2009

House prices have continued a tentative recovery with the average cost of a UK home rising 1.2 per cent in May driven by a lack of supply of new homes coming onto the market.

The figures from Nationwide Buidling Society showed that despite the jump, which took the average British house price to £154,016 in May, prices remained 11.3 per cent lower than they were a year ago.

Nationwide said that it was too early to call the bottom of the housing market, as unemployment continues to rise and credit remains scarce.

Nationwide’s chief economist Martin Gahbauer said: “The improvement in house price trends is consistent with signs of stabilisation in several other economic indicators and suggests that any further price declines may occur at a less rapid pace than in 2008.”

RICS chief economist Simon Rubinsohn said: “The latest data from the Nationwide Building Society provides further evidence that house prices appear to be stabilising.

“This is consistent with the recent trend in the RICS sales-to-stock ratio which has now risen for four consecutive months; historically a good lead indicator of turning points in house price inflation.

“The lack of new supply of houses coming onto the market is a key driver for the current turnaround in prices.”

UK Applications to build new homes up 10pc

Friday, May 29th, 2009

The housebuilding industry has received a boost with applications to build new homes up 10 per cent in the three months to April, figures from the National Housebuilding Council have revealed.

The National Housebuilding Council statistics show 17,859 applications to build new homes were received in the three months to the end of April 2009.

The amount is 10 per cent higher than the previous rolling quarter January to March 2009 when 16,232 applications we received.

Some encouragement can be taken from April’s figures, which show applications to start new homes in the combined private and public sectors rose for the fourth successive month in a row to 6,379.

But activity levels during the three months to the end of April were still severely depressed, with a 53 per cent reduction compared to the same period a year ago.

NHBC chief executive Imtiaz Farookhi said: “While it is still too early to assume that these are definite signs of a recovery, some positive indicators are emerging which suggest that the severe downturn in house-building activity may be beginning to turn a corner.

“Anecdotal evidence from house-builders and developers also suggests that conditions are easing slightly on site, no doubt boosted by the Government’s recent £1 billion budgetary pledge to help the housing market and the Homes and Communities Agency’s (HCA) Kickstart initiative to open up mothballed sites.”

REGIONAL BREAKDOWN
Region    Feb to April 2009    Feb to April 2008    Percentage Increase / (-) Decrease

England- Regions   
North East                                 630    1,223    -48%
North West                              1,127    2,633    -57%
Merseyside                                  364    1,121    -68%
Yorkshire & the Humber        967    2,320    -58%
West Midlands                          936    3,033    -69%
East Midlands                         1,381    3,017    -54%
Eastern                                    2,618    4,342    -40%
South West                             2,280    2,935    -22%
Greater London                      1,375    4,924    -72%
South East                               3,061    5,736    -47%
Totals for England            14,739    31,284    -53%
Scotland- Councils                 1,561    4,011    -61%
Wales- Unitary Authorities    786    1,374    -43%
Northern Ireland – Counties      749    968    -23%
Isle of Man                                       24    125    -81%
Totals for UK              17,859    37,762    -53%

NHBC stats show private home starts are down 72pc

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

The NHBC’s latest housebuilding statistics show 14,537 applications to start new homes in the combined private and public sectors in the three months to February.

The applications are 59 per cent down on the same period a year earlier when 35,733 applications were made.

Of the 14,537 applications to start new homes, 7,931 related to private sector activity – 72 per cent lower than the 28,533 in the same three-month period a year ago.

Public sector figures for the three months to the end of February totalled 6,606 – 8 per cent lower than the 7,200 in the same period a year ago.

New build completions in the combined private and public sectors totalled 26,918 in the three months to the end of February – 32 per cent lower than the 39,499 in the same period a year ago.

The average number of daily sales of new homes in the UK from December 2008 to February 2009 was 333 – 37 per cent lower than the 525 a year earlier.

NHBC chief executive, Imtiaz Farookhi, said: “With the number of applications to start new homes in the public sector remaining broadly consistent in recent months, our statistics suggest that house builders are increasingly relying on public sector work in the downturn.”

The Housing Forum today called for a radical shake-up of housebuilding and planning priorities to better accommodate current market conditions and better insulate for future market recovery.

Unveiling the findings of its Reaching for Recovery report, the Forum highlighted the need to review funding and planning models, re-evaluate land value and quality standards and ultimately reinstate a stronger sense of realism about the short and long term challenges facing the house building industry.

The report summarises the findings of four cross-industry working groups to investigate several key areas of housing industry reform including.

Each group produced a set of proposals which will be further developed in collaboration with The Housing Forum members and taken to Government.

Housing Forum chairman Jeffrey Adams said: “The need to increase housing volumes and improve existing homes does not lessen in the wake of the financial crisis – rather the challenges and timescales for delivering reform simply become tighter and shorter.

Applications to build new homes up 10 per cent in the three months

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

The housebuilding industry has received a boost with applications to build new homes up 10 per cent in the three months to April, figures from the National Housebuilding Council have revealed.

The National Housebuilding Council statistics show 17,859 applications to build new homes were received in the three months to the end of April 2009.

The amount is 10 per cent higher than the previous rolling quarter January to March 2009 when 16,232 applications we received.

Some encouragement can be taken from April’s figures, which show applications to start new homes in the combined private and public sectors rose for the fourth successive month in a row to 6,379.

But activity levels during the three months to the end of April were still severely depressed, with a 53 per cent reduction compared to the same period a year ago.

NHBC chief executive Imtiaz Farookhi said: “While it is still too early to assume that these are definite signs of a recovery, some positive indicators are emerging which suggest that the severe downturn in house-building activity may be beginning to turn a corner.

“Anecdotal evidence from house-builders and developers also suggests that conditions are easing slightly on site, no doubt boosted by the Government’s recent £1 billion budgetary pledge to help the housing market and the Homes and Communities Agency’s (HCA) Kickstart initiative to open up mothballed sites.”