B&Q’s Eco House looks like any other house on the street – but is far from ordinary according to the latest research from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the UK is trailing the rest of Europe when it comes to energy efficiency and environmental issues.

The RICS Sustainability Index puts the UK in fourth place, with a rating of 53%, behind Canada (74%), continental Europe (65%) and Australasia (64%).

However, with the UK committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050, and the government’s Green Deal kicking in next year, the way British households consume energy is set to change.

Around 20% of the UK’s emissions come from homes, and inevitably there will be big changes for both retailers and manufacturers in the home and garden market.

New products and innovations are already coming thick and fast, but when it comes to retail, one company is clearly leading the charge when it comes to sustainability.

B&Q’s ‘One Planet Home’ concept has already seen the company ensure 100% of its timber products are responsibly sourced; introduce a range of eco-friendly products; and commit to a 20% reduction in CO2 by the end of the 2012.

Now, B&Q has gone one step further to show customers how new green technology can change their homes, by buying an ordinary three-bedroom house and converting it into their very own ‘eco house’.

The company bought the end terrace house in Bishopstoke, near Southampton, to demonstrate how it could be improved to achieve high levels of efficiency.

The project started in April this year and was completed in just 10 weeks.

Many of the improvements were made using materials already stocked in B&Q stores, but the house is also a testbed for new technologies which could potentially be sold through the chain in future.

Looking ahead “With this project, we wanted to think about what would happen to the average home over the next 40 years,” says B&Q corporate social responsibility director Matthew Sexton.

“The house is 100 years old – what’s it going to look like in the next 100 years? We’ve seen some visually spectacular images of the home of the future, which look great, but actually people quite like living in a normal British home.

This house looks pretty ordinary, but behind the walls it’s extraordinary.”

And when DIY Week knocks on the door, there are no obvious signs that this house is any different from the others on the street.

But, embarking on a tour with project manager James Walker, the clever technologies and high-tech innovations used throughout the eco home soon reveal themselves.

We begin outside in the garden, at the end of which sits an outdoor home office.

The building also has a small room to house some of the equipment needed to improve the house’s efficiency, including an air source heat pump which has replaced the combination boiler in the house.

The pump is powered by electricity and takes its heat from the air.

“We wanted to put the home office in anyway,” says Mr Walker, “and we thought why not keep all of the kit outside as well? You don’t get people complaining about the noise of the pump, plus if there’s any issue with it you don’t need to be at home, someone can come and check on it without entering the house.”

The building also contains the house’s solar hot water collectors and a thermal store, which stores energy for the hot water and central heating system.

The garden is also home to a water butt and compost bin, and there are also plans to put in a clothesline and raised beds for growing vegetables; “the basic, eco-friendly things we are trying to get our customers to do,” , says Mr Walker.

And indeed, many of the green features to be found both outside and inside the house could be easily adopted by B&Q customers tomorrow.

Moving inside through triple-glazed double doors, the interior of

the home is stylish and well-decorated, using Newlife Paints recycled paint on the ceilings and Dulux Ecosense paint on the walls.

All the furniture has been ‘upcycled’ from cast-offs bought at the dump or charity shops, although the house looks a little bare at the moment – sourcing furniture in this way can take some time.

Upstairs, bedroom walls have been papered using eco-friendly wallpaper from Arthouse, while the carpeting throughout the first floor is 80% wool and uses an underlay made from recycled clothing – it’s also the cheapest underlay sold at B&Q.

“We’re not trying to create a premium, eco, niche segment,” says Mr Sexton.

“Sometimes choosing the green option is actually choosing the cheapest option.”

But there is also a lot of innovative green technology on show which you won’t get at your local B&Q just yet, and which might set you back a little more in terms of cost.

An intelligent thermostatic valve on the radiator on the kitchen reacts to the temperature in the house and adjusts itself accordingly, while Thermaskirt radiators – energy-efficient skirting board radiators which heat the house and save on wall space – are used throughout the house.

“We also have mechanical ventilation and heat recovery systems throughout the house, which are pulling air in and out of rooms. It gets rid of smells and makes sure the air stays fresh, but also regulates the temperature of the air coming back in,” says Mr Walker.

The B&Q team has managed to reduce the house’s carbon emissions by 69%.

By adding photovoltaic solar panels, the reduction would go to around 90% – and the team even hopes to get to carbon neutral.

“We have done independent energy tests – we know they’re plus or minus 5% of normal energy use,” says Mr Walker.

“We have got standard patterns set up in here with heat and water for a normal family lifestyle.”

Mr Sexton adds: “Now the government’s targets suddenly don’t look so daunting.

We have done this with ordinary builders, with largely ordinary materials, in acceptable time scales. It makes you realise this can be done.”

And as well as inspiring their customers, B&Q hopes to inspire its own staff to take on the green message, with all of the buyers and store managers coming down to visit the eco house.

“We’ll have a cycle of putting the newest technology in here, the buyers will come in and then we’ll try to get the prices down for customers,” he adds.

“It’ll always be a test lab for us. This house is about stretching our buyers’ thinking.

Very soon, when the Green Deal kicks off, we’ll get tradesmen asking for this stuff, so we need to look at the sourcing now.

We want to get people into a different mindset. We know retail is very immediate, but we want to take a big step forward and look at what’s coming.”

In order for this system to work, the house must be airtight. While the windows were already double glazed, B&Q has thoroughly insulated the entire house, using a variety of different materials.

“We wanted to show that there are different types of insulation that can be used,” says Mr Walker.

“We have put 140mm of cork insulation on the first floor rear elevation and covered that with brick slips.

This keeps the look of the brick wall but means the wall is well insulated.”

The kitchen walls have 80mm of internal wall insulation with phenolic foam, bonded to super-hardened plasterboard which allows the kitchen cabinets to be put straight up without the insulation behind causing any issues.

On the rear bedroom flank wall, 40mm aerogel panels have been used. “The logic is that we’re testing all different types but we have tried to use the best insulation for the situation,” says Mr Walker.

“The hallway has the thinnest insulation because it’s the narrowest part of the house. But obviously the thinnest insulation is also the most expensive.”

In terms of layout, not much in the house has changed, he explains.

“When we bought this place it had two features which needed to change to make this an inspirational home.

“There was a very steep staircase, and also the bathroom was at the back of the kitchen – that’s not what people want these days.”

So in went a new staircase, and the bathroom was moved upstairs. But this meant the house had lost a bedroom, which would have brought down its value.

To get around this issue, B&Q decided to install a loft conversion – and even this had a distinct point of difference.

“The loft conversion took just 24 hours to install and complete,” says Mr Walker.

“It was pre-built offsite in Cumbria in three and a half weeks, and it came pretty much as it is.

“It’s the first loft conversion in a day. There have been pre-built roof

units done, and the Huf houses, so we wondered if we could have a completely pre-built loft unit, already painted, with the flooring done etc.

You wouldn’t believe how perfectly it fits.”

The entire eco home project has been undertaken by builders who hadn’t done any eco building work before.

“We have got a huge change in the market coming, and a huge learning curve for the trade as well as consumers,” says Mr Walker.

“We also had to take into account that this is a typical street. People don’t want 10 vans turning up each day or too much disruption.

At the maximum point we had about five people on site, and usually we had two or three each day.”

And all that hard work is certainly paying off. “We spent £74,000 on the house,” says Mr Walker.

“Its value has gone up from £175,000 to £225,000 in a market where house values have mainly gone down.

“And the estate agent attributes about £15,000 of that to the fact it’s now an eco-house.”

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