Season 6, Post 4: The great housing experiment
Travel 70 miles from London to the border of Essex and Suffolk to see the future. Or at least one version of it. On a plot of land called Westland Heath, which brings to mind bucolic visions of the English countryside, an experiment is taking place. Here, UK building firm Taylor Wimpey has constructed five ‘future homes’ as a one-off project. Your author visited last week.
Buildings are some of the world’s worst offenders in terms of carbon emissions, yet we need more of them. In the UK, the Government estimates that 350,000 new homes need to be built annually. Taylor Wimpey is, therefore, in the vanguard. When the Westland Heath project is complete (probably at the start of the next decade), it will comprise over 1,100 new and sustainable properties. Part of the rationale for its future homes experiment is to pre-empt pending government legislation. Any house with foundations laid after June 2023 must have solar panels on its roof, while no gas boilers will be permitted in UK new-builds from 2025. Similar edicts are being put in place in other geographies.
The properties we visited contained an impressive array of futuristic mod-cons. Imagine a property not only with rooftop solar, but also a smart cylinder (which provides hot water only when required), a waste water heat recovery system (the latent heat from wasted in showers is recycled to help pre-heat incoming mains water) and infrared heating (which warms you rather than the whole room). There’s more too: battery storage, thermal skirting boards, an insulated front door and triple glazing. We were also impressed by the ‘wonderwall’ system. Mounted on – yes, you’ve guessed it – the wall, the device is self-learning and adapts heating, lighting and security to the user’s needs.
The obvious commonality across all these features is that they aim to improve sustainability credentials, aligning construction with government rules and (hopefully) saving householders money through lower energy bills. The initiative was launched in mid-January by Taylor Wimpey. Interest has been high, with the majority of the show homes already reserved for purchase by excited future dwellers. The only catch: they must share their energy consumption data with Taylor Wimpey for 12 months after purchase. These learnings can help inform subsequent builds. Expect to see more similar projects underway across the UK. For the current generation of first-time buyers, the future looks green. Your author, however, remains happy living in his Victorian property in central London, for now.
25 January 2024
The above does not constitute investment advice and is the sole opinion of the author at the time of publication. Past performance is no guide to future performance and the value of investments and income from them can fall as well as rise.
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Alex Gunz, Fund Manager
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