The drones flying over the community of Clyro in Powys over the past few months have been capturing images of the progress being made on one of Powys County Council’s first new rented housing projects for over 40 years. It’s part of the council’s response to the climate emergency and the housing challenges faced by many of its rural communities. Projects in Newtown, Brecon and other communities across the county are all at various stages of development.

The energy and carbon challenge

We need to be cutting the carbon and energy we use to build and run our homes in Wales. When the residents move into their homes in Clyro later this year, they will enjoy the benefits of Welsh Government standards which all our new homes will need to meet – benefitting the occupiers as well as the planet. Designed to use renewable energy to provide their heating and hot water they are also built using timber, with walls full of recycled newsprint, highly insulated floors and roofs and high-performance windows and doors to stay warm even when it’s cold outside. And they will have ventilation systems which will ensure they will always be full of fresh air without losing the warmth. Energy from the sun will also be captured through photovoltaic panels on the slate roofs.

Testing performance

Working with local architects George and Tomos, the Council’s Building Homes Team is ensuring it learns from the project by measuring the energy performance of these new homes and by involving the residents in capturing their experience of living in them. The homes will use heat pumps with some taking the energy from the air and others using the heat in the ground. Learning from the performance of the homes, the well-being and comfort of the residents, the effectiveness and affordability of energy consumption will be used in designing and building the next generation of projects. The project is part of the Welsh Government’s Innovative Housing Programme and the funding provided will also help meet the cost of the testing and analysis to come. Hence, the results will be shared with all housing providers across Wales, ensuring everyone can learn from the experience of this project.

Leading from the front

The council remains the only local authority in Wales (and one of only a few in the UK) with a Wood Encouragement Policy and its sponsorship of the Home-Grown Homes Project has seen it show a positive leadership role in reducing the carbon footprint of its affordable homes. Woodknowledge Wales (WKW) has been involved in the Clyro project from the start. Diana Waldron, WKW’s Building Performance Expert has helped the design team with identifying the data and evidence that will help analysis of the project’s performance. Some members of the WKW Team visited the site last week to find out about progress, to meet Simone Hodges (from Powys CC) and Jehu’s team on site, led by Vince Alm. The project is part of the Home-Grown Homes Project, which WKW has been delivering for the council, the first phase of which ended in March. The next phase of the project will be supporting local authorities and housing associations in developing projects and activities which drive down carbon and energy used in building and running new homes – and Clyro is one of them.

Local solutions

The ambition has been to source skills and materials needed to build the homes as close to Clyro as possible. The design team includes George and Tomos (Machynlleth based architects), Hydrock (Cardiff based engineering specialists) and Bridgend based contractors Jehu who are committed to using local tradespeople in the build. Powys County Council’s Building Homes Team are project managing with Project Officer Simone Hodges leading on the project. The timber frames have been manufactured and erected by Lowfield Timber Frames, based near Welshpool, using home-grown timber supplied by Pontrilas Sawmills near Hereford. PYC, also from Welshpool, have installed the cellulose insulation. The homes will feature local larch cladding supplied by Llandre Sawn Timber near Llandrindod Wells.

Investing in the future

As well as being designed to achieve an impressive environmental performance, the project includes houses, bungalows and flats with the facility to extend and adapt some of the spaces, if the needs of the occupants change over time. As well as being capable of changing, the homes have living spaces designed to be open, light and airy reflecting the kind of challenges we’ve all faced during the pandemic and its ‘stay at home’ restrictions. Designing and building homes to meet the highest energy and environmental performance and maximise the well-being of residents brings cost challenges. However, the longevity, durability and high performing building fabric, will all mean that the impact they will have on both the environment and the health and well-being of residents should pay real dividends for the council.