A pioneering research and development partnership launched this month is to lead to a world-first in the move towards carbon zero, plastic-free and fuel-efficient homes, which are set to be built and tested in Liverpool.
Changing Streams CIC, a not-for-profit environmental company, is joining forces with one of the UK’s largest housing providers, Your Housing Group, and The University of Liverpool to design and build six prototype houses, which they hope will provide a blueprint for sustainable home development worldwide.
The partnership project is aimed at creating economically viable housing that 'is environmentally-friendly in every way possible, whilst helping to eradicate fuel poverty – by significantly reducing running/heating costs'.
Based in the Liverpool City Region, the prototype houses will include six different solutions to tackle carbon, plastic pollution and fuel poverty. The first house will be designed and built to prioritise carbon reduction, while the second will aim to prioritise plastic reduction. The remaining four will be developed as a chain of hybrid carbon/plastic-reduced homes that will be used to identify and address the potential clashes between these two objectives.
Once built, six families will be asked to move into the homes and to work with the research team to understand how they function in everyday life.
The partnership hopes the learning from this pilot will set a new standard in the industry and go on to underpin Your Housing Group’s plans to develop new homes over the next 25 years.
The team have secured the investment required to deliver the initial project covering researching and developing the prototypes, part of which is being used to support the ‘Changing Streams Research Centre’ based in the University of Liverpool’s School of Environmental Sciences. The new centre will work closely with industry leaders such as Your Housing Group to find innovative, but also practical solutions, to reducing plastic in construction.
Brian Cronin, chief executive of Your Housing Group, said: “The Board at Your Housing Group is fully committed to Zero Carbon and the wider ESG agenda and Chris Mackenzie-Grieve, a non-Executive director at YHG, will act as our lead Board member to ensure this remains a strategic priority for the Group.”
He added: “We have a substantial, multi-million-pound investment programme to deliver over the next five years that includes the development and delivery of a carbon reduction strategy. However, we recognise that this alone will not achieve our ultimate goal of making our homes truly sustainable whilst providing social equality.
"Talking with Changing Streams we recognised that plastic pollution is a serious threat, which we cannot ignore, whilst the embedded carbon in plastic conflicts with our carbon reduction program. We do not want to develop carbon-free houses that move the problem from a climatic emergency to an environmental one."
He added: “So, we are essentially pushing fresh thinking into this project, whilst also utilising the wealth of knowledge we jointly possess. No other company has considered how we can achieve a combined carbon and plastic reduction strategy. The research we are undertaking with Changing Streams and the University of Liverpool will address this in a holistic way for both new build and retrofit projects."
He said the prototypes developed within this partnership will be highly innovative, but they may not be the final solution. "As a business, we intend to keep pushing the boundaries of what is possible and as an industry we must be prepared to make such commitments if we are to achieve our goals in reducing climate change and environmental pollution. We also want to ensure that the people who call these houses their homes do not suffer with rising fuel bills and the prospect of fuel poverty."
The UK housing crisis has already led to the government stating that three million new social homes will be needed over the next 20 years to meet rising demand. The team behind the pioneering pilot say their partnership could help provide answers as to how we can ensure these new homes are not only carbon-neutral, but also have reduced plastic.
Dr Gareth Abrahams, head of the University of Liverpool’s Changing Streams Research Centre and co-founder of Changing Streams CIC, said: “When we talk about carbon-zero housing we often think about what a building does: how much heat it retains. But we overlook another important question: what are these houses made of? Many of the products we use to build and insulate new homes are made from plastic-based materials. The risk is that by focusing on carbon-zero targets alone we produce housing with larger quantities of plastic."
He added: "Further downstream we know that plastic has a devastating impact on the natural environment. This five-year project is the first to address the balance between carbon and plastic reduction in the design and construction of affordable housing. The outcomes of this research will transform the housing built by Your Housing Group over the next 25 years, but we also hope it changes the way we think and talk about sustainability globally."
He warned that it will not be a quick fix. "The project will involve very intensive research and innovative problem-solving. There are many plastic alternatives currently available that can be used within the construction process, for instance, but they are not all viable due to price, availability, performance, and installation. At the same time, there are many plasticated products for which no alternative exists. Our research will highlight all these areas and help inform us of the barriers to change whilst developing new and inventive ways of working.”
Neal Maxwell, who has worked in the construction industry for more than 30 years, and co-founded Changing Streams CIC after a trip to the Arctic left him appalled by the levels of plastic pollutants in the Arctic Ocean, added: “We set-up Changing Streams in 2019 with the sole intention of changing the construction industry’s reliance on plastic both in terms of the materials that form our homes and the plastic that is wasted in their fabrication."
He continued: "Our aim is to disrupt the industry and tear up the ‘traditional’ rule book and to do this, we are now embarking on an incredibly ambitious programme of work in partnership with Your Housing Group and the University of Liverpool, which will lead to a fundamental change in the way social housing and housing in general is created. We are confident that this game-changing project will lead not only to lasting changes within the housing sector, but that it will have far-reaching and transformational impacts on the wider construction industry.
Maxwell concluded: “Whilst the construction industry is making great strides towards their carbon goals, the sector is still responsible for 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions, 50% of the world’s energy consumption and 40% of raw materials. So far as plastic is concerned, we produce 380 million tonnes of plastic globally every year and 20% of this is destined for the construction industry. And so we would like to call on other developers to join us, share and contribute to the prototype project and be part of the drive towards plastic and carbon-free homes.”
We previously covered the work of Changing Streams here and here.