According to data from the English housing survey, the average UK house is over 60 years old.
60 years ago, cars did 14 miles to the gallon, phones had dial plates and computers were the size of offices.
Close to every aspect of our lives has been revolutionised by innovation. Computers are billions of times more powerful, cars are faster, safer and far more efficient and soon will be electric, and our phones are also cameras, computers and personal assistants.
But there is one area that has utterly failed to innovate. Our homes. Whilst today's phones bear no resemblance to a phone from the 1950s, a house built in the 1950s doesn’t look all that different from a new build house today. What’s more, they’re not built all that differently either. Both are built in an expensive, labour intensive way by piling one brick on top of another, by hand. Working outside for months, the building is exposed to the elements whilst being constructed, affecting production schedules and causing massive amounts of wasted materials. Productivity in the construction industry has been stagnant for decades. If productivity had increased at the same rate as it has in the manufacturing industry over the past twenty years, the global economy would be $1.6 trillion better off.
It’s not just how they are built, but the finished product that’s failed to innovate. Although most new builds today do have higher standards of insulation than homes built half a century ago, it’s just an incremental improvement, not a game changer. Homes still leak heat, and as a result, each UK household burns 500 cubic meters of gas on average to keep their homes warm every year.
This is a 20th-century solution to heating our homes, and is causing a 21st-century problem – climate change. Heating our homes accounts for 20% of UK emissions, and it just isn’t sustainable. If we’re going to meet the UK target of reducing emissions by 80% by 2050, then we simply can’t keep going with the same model of housing we’ve got now.
The fact that technology has revolutionised the world around us whilst our homes have stayed pretty much the same shows we can’t take innovation for granted. Things don’t get more advanced by waiting for it to happen, you’ve got to get out there and change things.
That’s what we’re trying to do at Citu. Not content to build the same old homes in the same old way, we’ve set out to radically change the kind of houses we build and how we build them. In doing so we hope to start a chain reaction in the UK building industry, increasing sustainability, reducing waste and lowering costs.
Building the homes of the future
Why is it that productivity in the construction sector is no better than the 1960s? Because when each house is built by hand, brick by brick, it’s nigh impossible to automate and increase precision.
To overcome this, we’re building our houses in our state-of-the-art manufacturing facility. This lets us create houses using sections cut to incredible levels of precision. This reduces waste because we can use only the exact amount of materials we need, and the level of precision means we can achieve incredible standards of air-tightness in our houses.
By building homes that are over 10 times more air tight than UK building regulations, and combining it with extremely high standards of insulation, we can do away with the need for central heating at all. Citu homes have MVHR systems which capture heat from appliances from exiting stale air and transfer it to incoming fresh air, keeping heat locked in. By doing away with the need for central heating we remove one of the largest sources of household emissions in a single stroke.
We want to make central heating go the way of the typewriter and floppy disks. A technology that was once useful but now isn’t good for anything but sitting on museum shelves. It’s about time after all. Central heating and floppy disks were both novel in the 1970s, but we only still rely on one of them.
Making our homes Smart
When you have data at your fingertips, you can make smarter decisions. That’s why we’re building digitally enabled smart homes that let you monitor your energy usage remotely via our Actuate app, and turn off lights and appliances whilst you’re out of the house. This lets residents further reduce their energy usage, minimising their carbon footprints.
These features shouldn’t be novel. If our houses had innovated in the same way as the phones in our pockets, the planes in our skies or the TVs on our walls, then this article wouldn’t have needed writing. But they haven’t.
We’re trying to change this, but we can’t do it alone. We worked with Leeds Beckett University to design our timber framed housing system, which saves energy in construction whilst providing twice the insulation as a masonry house with the same wall thickness.
Hopefully, in a few years time, all the features of the Citu home won't be interesting anymore, they'll just be standard.