Shimmy down to zero

Tablets channel technology control and community communications to keep carbon zero at Farrells’ high tech housing

Exterior CGI of orchard and housing at Elmsbrook by Fabrica.
Exterior CGI of orchard and housing at Elmsbrook by Fabrica.

Residents of what is claimed to be the UK’s first ‘true’ zero carbon housing development, in north west Bicester, Oxfordshire, will use tablet PCs to monitor their real time energy use and watch instructional videos designed to help cut emissions.

Phase one of the Elmsbrook development, designed by Farrells for Fabrica, an offshoot of developer A2Dominion, launches today and comprises 393 zero carbon homes built with no waste to landfill and a 30% reduction in carbon emissions compared to a typical build process.

The scheme takes into account both regulated energy, used by the home for heating and hot water, and unregulated energy, such as electricity used day to day by residents, surpassing the existing government definition of zero carbon, which only takes into account regulated energy.

Every home will receive a tablet installed with a home information system, known as Shimmy, which displays real time energy use and costs for electricity, heating and hot water, plus real-time bus travel updates and enabling users to make bookings at the local car club.

Interior image of living area in five-bedroom house at Elmsbrook by Fabrica.
Interior image of living area in five-bedroom house at Elmsbrook by Fabrica.

Steve Hornblow, project director at A2Dominion, told the RIBA Journal: ‘The system will get the message to residents that there are alternatives to the car, which should help us meet strict sustainable transport targets to reach a 50% modal shift to buses and trains.’

He added: ‘We have found from experience that when we put lots of technologies in homes, residents find them difficult to use and understand. At Elmsbrook, to provide some support, we will post short video clips on the tablets that demonstrate, for example, how they should switch the filter in a the air ventilation system, or switch the system over to ‘summer’ mode when the weather’s hot. Simple advice like that can really help us meet energy targets.’

Shimmy will also act as a form of social media portal, communicating updates to residents on local meetings and events.

Exterior CGI of street scene and five-bedroom detatched house at Elmsbrook by Fabrica.
Exterior CGI of street scene and five-bedroom detatched house at Elmsbrook by Fabrica.

Elmsbrook is the only eco development in the UK to adhere to the strict Planning Policy Statements (PPS1) originally laid out by the government for the delivery of eco towns. When completed, it will provide 6,000 zero carbon homes over an area of about 1,000 acres.

All homes feature a mechanism for harvesting rainwater designed to reduce water use to 80 litres per person, per day, were constructed using sustainable materials, and incorporate high levels of insulation and triple glazing.

The development includes around 17,500m2 of solar PV arrays, arranged across the roofs of the homes. Water and heating supply comes from a combined heat and power plant, connected to each home via a network of underground pipes.

'We just received outline planning permission for another 2,500 homes, so will be pushing on to build those to the same true zero carbon standard, or higher, we expect what we are doing now will become the norm in a few years’ time and we want to stay one step ahead of the curve,' said Hornblow.