To B or not to B? That is the question…

Justin Denno is a founder and director of Belfield Developments, a Devon based, family-run property development company that creates exceptional new homes, luxury apartments and historic refurbishments.

Strong ethics and tasteful design are at the heart of Belfield’s approach with each home engineered to last using sustainable materials whenever possible. Belfield focus on establishing communities and creating legacy developments they are proud to put their name to.

At Belfield Developments we’re passionate about building beautiful, energy efficient homes. We believe that through good design, houses can be built to use less energy, with more sustainable materials as well as considering the health and well-being of homeowners.

We consciously spend more on certain materials that are better for our health and the environment knowing full well that in many examples customers won’t notice unless it’s pointed out to them. Our houses are about as thermally efficient as you can get, and yet, because of the way the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) system works, the best rating we can achieve is a ‘B’. Why? Because we choose not to install solar, and without having some form of energy generation it’s just not possible to accumulate enough points under the SAP (Standard Assessment Procedure) to be awarded an ‘A’ rating.

Despite this, we are sticking to our ‘Fabric First’ approach because we think it’s the right thing to do. We focus on creating a building which is exceptionally energy efficient because it’s much easier to do this in construction than to retrofit, as opposed to solar which is relatively easy to retrofit if the homeowner really wants it. We work with architects, expert in Passivhaus design who study in great detail how a building works, how air and moisture flows and permeates through it and the importance of airtightness in creating a very thermally efficient home. To meet Passivhaus standards, all the little holes around the outer ‘envelope’ of a building must amount to less than the size of a 5p piece per 5m2 of envelope. The current limiting factor for airtightness to meet building regs standard is equivalent to a 20p piece per 1m2 of the building’s envelope. As you can imagine, attention to detail during construction is vitally important.

We install high performance windows usually with wooden, aluminium clad frames rather than PVC-u and we often use aluminium for our guttering. We prefer to use Rockwool insulation over Celotex because although you need more of it, it’s not made using petrochemicals. We use solid wood doors in our kitchens, stone worktops rather than laminates and softwood skirtings and architraves rather than MDF. The alternatives we use are more expensive, but we believe they’re worth it and align with our values.

Probably the most exciting technology we build into our homes is MVHR. It plays an important role in maintaining great air quality in an airtight home and contributes to the efficiency of the heating system, which is usually a ground or air source heat pump. A constant source of fresh air is also great for your health and wellbeing.

MVHR, which stands for Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery, works via a system of vents in every room which replaces the air in the house with fresh air from outside, but recovers all the lovely warmth from the outgoing air before discarding it. It has low energy mixing fans which mitigate cold draughts in winter and provide a supply air boost in summer, and the system is fitted with external and internal temperature sensors and an intelligent controller, which monitors conditions to create an ideal living environment. The incoming air can also be filtered for various particulates including dust and pollen which can be a real bonus for hayfever sufferers. I have MHVR in my own house, and although I live in the countryside, I was amazed at how much c*&p collected on my filters! I recommend them to everyone now, and if I lived in traffic heavy city it would be a must have, not a nice to have.

In my view, a sustainable future should start with an ambition to build better homes which consume less energy and then empower the energy companies to generate the power we do need in the most efficient, cost-effective and environmentally friendly way. I would like the SAP/EPC regime to keep moving with the times. To recognise that homes which consume a lot less energy is a better solution in the long run to homes which generate a little.