'We're still building like the Romans'

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Published: 11 December 2018


air source heat pump renewable energy carbon emissions MMS construction housing
George Clarke speaking at the Mitsubishi Electric event
Heat pumps have an important role to play in changing the way we build the homes of the future, according to Mitsubishi Electric.

Consultants, specifiers, architects and housing associations attended a thought-provoking event at the company's Hatfield headquarters.

Among the presenters at Transforming the Housing Technology Mindset was architect, campaigner and TV presenter George Clarke, who is an ambassador for Mitsubishi Electric's Ecodan air source heat pump. It was therefore surprising - and refreshing - that he barely mentioned the Ecodan, choosing instead to concentrate on what he described as outdated methods when it comes to building homes and communities.
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Max Halliwell, right, with, from left, Professor Nick Whitehouse, Martin Fahey and George Clarke
He said much of today's housing was still built in largely the same way as the Romans and highlighted the advantages of using modern methods of construction (MMC), where buildings are produced in a factory environment and then and constructed on site. He said this helped ensure the quality of materials and reduced building times.

He said: "We need to think differently about everything and ask if it really is the best way. People say that pre-fabricated houses all look the same, but the new builds we have now all look the same!

"Other industries have moved on, with staggering levels of R&D and disruptors coming in. We are still building houses like the Romans.''

He also stressed the importance of convincing the public of the benefits of renewable options, including heat pumps: "Without education, nothing will change. The public need to understand and until we help to change that mindset, they will still order a gas boiler.''

Also speaking was Professor Nick Whitehouse, an experienced fellow architect and part of the Build Offsite organisation.

Mitsubishi Electric believes heat pumps technology is ideally placed to be used alongside MMC. Max Halliwell, Martin Fahey and Stuart Bell from the host company looked at the way we heat our homes and how that is expected to change as we are forced to reconsider our reliance on fossil fuels.

Martin Fahey, head of sustainability at Mitsubishi Electric Living Environmental Systems, looked forward to a future based on the 'Electric Economy' and pointed out that only around 40% of the gas we need is now covered by  UK production. Heat pumps are a key technology in the move towards an electric economy, he said, and properties off the gas grid should be moved very soon, according to the Committee for Climate Change.

He called for improved insulation in old housing stock to increase energy efficiency and said it was crucial for new build developments to attain higher standards. These measures, he said, would also help address the issue of 2.5 million UK homes estimated to be in fuel poverty.

Market growth
He said the aim had to be healthy homes as part of healthy communities and added that there were important lessons to learn from elsewhere in Europe, where fourth generation schemes see heat pumps used to distribute and recover heat at a city level. 

Max Halliwell, communications manager for renewable heating, described living with an Ecodan, having had one installed in the family home eight years ago. He also traced the development of the range from its arrival in 2007, with close to 60,000 installed in the UK. It is now available from 4kW-48kW and the line-up includes the Ultra Quiet Ecodan, built in Scotland and launched this year, which the manufacturer says is based on 10 years of knowledge and sets a benchmark for others to follow.

​His thoughts on market growth were echoed by national specification manager Stuart Bell, who said heat pumps accounted for more than 50% of new heating installations in Germany last year, way ahead of figures for the UK despite a similar climate and population.

​He said a fully electrified UK heating market would see 425,000 air source heat pumps (ASHPs) installed in 2030 – around 20 times the current figue. Even moderate predictions would see 100,000 installations by 2030, he added, bringing the UK into line with the French market.