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Norwegian eco houses a success in Midlands

Nearly a year after Home Secretary Jacqui Smith officially opened a development of 36 pre-fabricated and environmentally friendly Norwegian-built timber houses in Redditch outside Birmingham, the local press, residents and council have branded the project as a great success.

Regional newspaper the Birmingham Mail revisited the development and spoke to the residents there who praised their new Norwegian-built homes. Under the headline “Living here changed my life for the better” resident Helen O’Brien told the newspaper that “There are no drafts in this property as the insulation is really good. I can't hear the next door neighbours through the walls as we have so much insulation.” She continued "The heating is really good and there are no problems with the water. In my old home I would spend approximately £240 over three months in the winter. In this house my heating bill for the same period was £97. My water bills have reduced and I don't use as much water as before as the taps have spray attachments.” O’Brien also stated that her children were much more settled at the development and the house is easier to maintain. "It's also cheaper to run which means I have some spare money in my pocket," she said to the Birmingham Mail.

One of the two developments is made up of 20 two, three and four-bedroom semi-detached houses. Eleven of these are for rent with the remaining nine sold in a 50 percent shared ownership arrangement. The other development features 16 two-bedroom bungalows for rent, suitable for elderly or disabled people. O’Brein, who suffers from a muscle paralysis condition that in periods makes her dependant on a wheelchair, is only one of the new residents whose quality of life has improved after moving in.

Councillor Brandon Clayton, housing portfolio holder with Redditch Borough Council, has also noticed the great impact these houses have had; “These innovative houses, developed in partnership with Hedalm Anebyhus, Accord Housing Association and Redditch Co-operative Homes, show that we are well on the way to meeting the Council’s priority of promoting best standards and opportunities in housing. I am delighted to hear how they have made a real difference to the lives of those who live in them.”

More houses to come

The development has in fact been so successful that Redditch Borough Council and its partners plan to build more developments, including two three-bedroom houses in Southcrest, Redditch, as part of the regeneration of a vacant car parking court, and 18 two, three and four-bedroom homes in Winyates, Redditch, at a now closed and demolished old people's nursing home.

The existing houses, built by Norwegian company Hedalm Anebyhus, have double-glazed windows made from recycled glass and doors made from sustainable timber at a modern factory in Norway. The homes were exported with insulation in the walls and assembled on site with a complete house being water tight in a few hours, a time far less than conventional house building. There was less waste on site during the construction because of the ready-made sections which also remove much of the manufacturing element. This in turn reduces the impacts on the physical environment often caused by traditional building methods, such as noise, chemical and particulate pollution and wastage of products. The Norwegian construction method enabled the properties to be completed in a record six months, over 50 percent less time than a conventional build scheme.

In addition, the new occupiers not only benefit from affordable rents but achieve even greater savings in fuel bills thanks to the energy efficiency capabilities of the properties with the expected energy costs being 60 percent less than a traditional house. Being built to Eco Homes Excellent and the latest Building Regulations Part L has resulted in a SAP (Standard Assessment Procedure) rating of 109 compared to 78 for a traditional house with C02 emissions being reduced by over half. “Twenty percent of carbon emissions come from our houses, but these homes will help combat that,” said the Home Secretary of the properties which also benefit from a recovery element within the heating system to encourage heat retention and recycling in the property.

Quick to build

Hedalm Anebyhus, the company behind the houses, uses only the best Norwegian spruce and pine that have grown to full maturity over 90 years. The company is owned by four forest owners who have a long-range policy and manage big resources of forest. In addition to the Norwegian company, the homes have been developed by Accord/Redditch Co-operative Homes in partnership with Redditch Borough Council and The Housing Corporation. The developments are managed by Breedon Housing Co-operative, a fully mutual tenants group, which is in charge of repairs, grounds maintenance, lettings and combating anti-social behaviour.

At the opening last year, where Smith planted a symbolic oak tree, the Mayor of Redditch said the borough had long been in need for affordable homes that were quick to build and used modern methods of construction to ensure low carbon emissions. The Mayor praised Hedalm Anebyhus’s efforts and said “this project has been such a success because of your efficiency.”

“It’s absolutely fantastic that they’ve been completed so fast,” said the Home Secretary of the two developments in the Lakeside area which has brought much-needed affordable housing to the borough. Smith had already been to the site during the building process of the homes which are the first in the country to achieve level 3 of the Government’s new code for sustainable homes.

A piece of Norway in the Midlands; the new houses in Ken Somner Gardens. Photo: Thomas Aastad / Royal Norwegian Embassy

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One of the two developments is made up of 20 semi-detached houses. Eleven of these are for rent with the remaining nine sold in a 50 percent shared ownership arrangement. The other development features 16 bungalows for rent.Photo: Thomas Aastad / Royal Norwegian Embassy

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith planted an oak tree at the development during the official opening on Friday 5 October 2007.Photo: Thomas Aastad / Royal Norwegian Embassy

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