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Mythbusting on sustainable homes



Isabel Allen and Simon McWhirter, directors at Hab Housing, explore some of the myths that surround custom-build and explain why it has a key role to play in tackling the UK’s housing crisis. 

This article originally appeared in Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Guide to Sustainable Homes 2013.

Myth one: custom-build is expensive

It doesn’t have to be. We are very mindful that the British public has been bombarded with tales of grands projets – expensive dreams that cost the Earth. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

On the continent, custom-build is seen not as a self-indulgent hobby, but as a means of bringing the cost of home ownership down. Yes, a one-off folly surrounded by extensive grounds is always going to be expensive. But we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about ordinary, modest, housing – often in terraces.

Click here to read The Guide to Sustainable Homes 2013

But rather than showing the customer a finished house and saying, “Lump it or leave it”, we want to establish what it is they really want to buy. In some instances they may want to buy a bare shell with a view to ‘camping out’ until they have raised more money to build in, say, an upper floor. In others, they may have the skills – or the contacts – to carry out much of the work themselves.

Myth two: custom-build houses are wacky and eccentric

Great! We’re all for eccentricity. That said, our primary aim is to offer our customers the chance to own their own home for as low a price as possible.

In practice, this means rational, economic houses; whilst we have spent a lot of time working on the best possible designs, the starting points for them are – for the main part – essentially very simple rectangular forms.

Bearing that in mind though, we’d be disappointed if customers didn’t make their mark on their homes. One of the things that makes volume house-building projects so stultifying is the sense of sameness – the fact that they lack the variety of settlements that have grown organically over time. 

Myth three: it’s risky

Building projects are notoriously risky, especially those with an amateur at the helm. They ride roughshod over programme and budget, causing an awful lot of grief to all concerned. Our mission is to make the whole process less risky and to iron out the kinks.

We’ve designed, tested and – crucially – costed a range of potential house types and so can give an accurate idea as to what any given project is likely to cost. Oh, and all of our plots are set within a carefully thought through masterplan with really high-quality public realm, doing away with the very real risk that you end up with a house that you love in surroundings you hate.

Myth four: custom-build projects take forever to get off the ground

They can, and they do. But ours won’t. Why? Because we take care of the stuff that makes projects get stuck at the starting gate.

We’ll get outline planning consent for our schemes before we market individual plots so that buyers can rest secure in the knowledge that they’re investing in a realisable dream. And we’ll make sure that all our sites have the services (like water, electricity, etc) they need.

Myth five: you can’t get a mortgage to build your own house

Availability of finance is a real problem for British self-builders and custom-builders. But things are changing fast, and our strategy of de-risking custom build will make the process infinitely more attractive to lenders.

Our plan is to work with mortgage companies to smooth the process of accessing suitable finance for your project and will assist our customers with the range of options available.

Isabel Allen and Simon McWhirter are directors at Hab Housing, which was established by Kevin McCloud (Channel 4’s Grand Designs) to tackle the shortage of environmentally-friendly and beautifully-designed housing at the affordable end of the market. Hab, which stands for Happiness Architecture Beauty, recently broke the record for equity crowdfunding, after raising £1.9m on the online platform Crowdcube.

Further reading:

Creating a low-carbon home of your own

Superhomes for a super future

Sustainable design should change our behaviour for good

Sustainable mortgages: designed as if people and the planet matter

The Guide to Sustainable Homes 2013


Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?



self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo |

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.


Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035



renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart /

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.


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