New Norfolk homes are a sign of the times

At first glance they look like any other small development of new homes taking shape in a quiet Norfolk village.

But 12 new houses being built at Rackheath, near Norwich represent a remarkable insight into homes of the future, incorporating the very latest technology and building design to make them so energy efficient that they will be carbon neutral over the course of a year.

That means zero emissions of harmful carbon dioxide stoking up global warming and for the families living there, vastly reduced household utility bills.

The affordable homes to rent are being built by Dove Jeffery Homes on behalf of the Wherry Housing Association on land at Green Lane West, Rackheath – now called Trinity Close - which was previously owned by Broadland District Council.

The contractors researched cutting edge technologies to meet the brief of making the properties among the greenest in Britain and achieve a zero carbon status that is many times more energy efficient than conventionally built houses.

Features include:

• Renewable electricity from solar panels in the roof that will generate 4000 to 5000 kilowatt hours of energy per year.

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• Heat recovery and ventilation systems that capture warmth from air in rooms such as the kitchen or bathroom, filter it and use it to heat and ventilate other rooms in the house.

• 'Grey water' systems to recycle bathwater for use in flushing toilets.

• Super insulation in walls, floors, roofs, windows and doors that are way above statutory levels.

•'Smart meters' to monitor energy performance over the next three years so that residents can keep a detailed check on the electricity they are using and from which appliance.

Funding for the project has come from the government, Wherry and Broadland council.

The scheme consists of two bungalows, four flats and six two, three and four bedroom houses. They are being offered at rents people can afford to tenants who are local to the Rackheath area, or those who can show a connection with the village, making sure the community remains vibrant and that people who grew up in the area can continue to live there.

People moving into the new homes will be given individual advice and assistance on how to use the technology and encouraged to lead a greener lifestyle by academics at the University of East Anglia's Low Carbon Innovation Centre

They are organising a three year project which will involve data being fed back to them from the houses via broadband to see how power is being used. Equipment is so precise it can tell tenants exactly which appliances are using what amount of electricity.

The centre's project officer for the development, Fergus Rolfe said: 'We want tenants to get the very best from the innovations built in to Trinity Close, and that means making sure they understand how it all works and how they can do their bit.

'Sometimes the most energy efficient thing to do will not be what you would traditionally expect. For example the hot water system works more efficiently by being on constantly rather than by heating it for a few hours each day.

'And it's better to use the washing machine during the day when the solar panels are producing electricity rather than overnight.'

Broadland portfolio holder for housing and environmental services, Cllr Jo Cottingham said the development was a forerunner to council plans for 200 more new homes in the village – the so-called Rackheath Exemplar Project - 40 per cent of which would be affordable, and again built to the highest environment standards.

She added: 'Together with our retro-fit scheme to help existing homeowners in Rackheath make their properties more energy efficient through loans and grants for the work, these houses show our commitment to making the area one of the most eco-friendly in the country.

'We are committed to providing good housing that people can afford for everyone in Broadland and this paves the way for the wider eco-community project which is our long term ambition.'

Wherry managing director Mark Jones added: 'These homes produce zero carbon emissions and are built to the sustainable homes code level 6, the highest rating new homes can achieve for sustainability.

'We are extremely proud to deliver such a high quality affordable housing development together with our partners, particularly one which will have such a positive effect on the environment. The homes also look great and residents will be saving money on their energy bills, which is crucial in times like these.'

Richard Dove, the managing director of Dove Jeffery Homes added: 'It was a tough brief but we are confident these houses are built to the very highest environmental standards. Even the materials we have used are sustainably sourced.'

The homes are currently being offered to eligible people on Broadland's housing register, with construction expected to be completed in late September.