Highbury Quadrant

Cost-neutral council social housing retrofit and new-build with zero heating bills for tenants

This Passive House 'special project' was commissioned in 2012 to test the vision of zero heating costs for council tenants in retrofitted properties.

The aims were:

  • A pilot, environmentally-responsible project to transform hard-to-heat, cold, damp, council-owned rental flats into comfortable, healthy homes that would change the lives and opportunities of Islington residents.
  • Pilot project carried out at no cost to Islington Council (the project would be funded by building and selling an additional family house to replace redundant off-street car parking on the site).
  • Make heating so cheap to run that it would not be worth billing tenants.
  • Save on the capital cost of space heating by sharing one small electric heat pump between the flats.
  • Water heating provided by a revolutionary low-cost domestic hot water tank in each property with a tiny air source heat-pump on top of the tank (outside heating air drawn in via a twin-duct through outside wall). The first appliances to be used in a UK property would be supplied by special arrangement direct for this project from the European manufacturer.
  • Hygiene ventilation (providing pollen and virus protection) via a centralised heat recovery ventilation unit for all three flats.
  • To restore a council-owned street property that was suffering from subsidence. At the same time to enhance the architecture so that it is tenure-blind. It is our belief that council-owned street properties should be as attractive as any well-maintained privately-owned property.

However, after the retirement of the commissioning officer, a succession of officers in the Islingon Housing Department seemed unable or unwilling to support either the technical or design vision, even deliberately down-grading the 'middle-class' entrance handrailing without a cost-saving. After years of wrangling, muddled-thinking and money-wasting, during which time subsidence problems became critical, the project stalled. At least 7 years after the project could have been completed as a Passive House, it seems set to be commenced with a mediochre energy target by 'framework architects' at a higher capital cost than the pilot Passive House scheme. The massive increase in energy costs in 2022 only highlights what appears to be the myopic thinking of the council's housing department.

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