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Interview: ‘Good design should be green’

Ian McMurray 16 June 2010

Later today (16 June), Oliver Heath will address the Show Floor Seminar Theatre audience at the CEDIA Home Technology Event on the subject of residential sustainability. It’s a subject that the Heath Design founder and TV presenter knows inside out, having implemented a host of cutting-edge eco-sensitive technologies at his own property. Heath spoke to IE Residential about conveying the sustainability message and uncovering the ‘secret life’ of the home.

Q: What are the main points that you wish to address in your CEDIA HTE presentation?

A: The main aspect is that good contemporary design should be inherently green. Contemporary design is about addressing the situation in the world in which we live, and then creating pieces that make life better and reflect those issues. Sustainability is an inherent part of that – it shouldn’t be tacked on to make you feel better – and is able to bring so many benefits.

It’s also important to emphasise the need to strike a balance between technology and ease of use for all the people in a house. A lot of my work is not just about cutting people’s carbon emissions, it’s also about creating better places to live.

Q: To what extent do you think these issues have been grasped by the CI sector?

A: The integration sector is helping to achieve better levels of sustainability through energy reduction and long-term thinking regarding the future-proofing of homes. One of the great things about the new technology is that it is allowing us to communicate the secret life of the home to the occupant – energy usage, gas usage and so on. We understand our homes much better and [are being encouraged] to think more about the realm beyond ‘the box’. These technologies put us in control of our environments, and as a result we can start to be much more efficient in the use of energy.

Q: What should custom installers prioritise when implementing sustainable solutions?

A: Ease of use. It’s a case-by-case situation, and you need to pick the right technology for the occupants of each house and ensure that you don’t confuse people. A lot of people are put off by buttons and control manuals. Ease of access for maintenance and repairs is also key.

Q: What needs to be done to encourage further adoption of sustainable home technologies?

A: It’s clear that while home automation systems are now established, what is not so established is the fact that sustainable technologies may need to be integrated into homes as well. Getting all these systems to communicate with each other is very important, and having someone on hand who can help balance these issues is critical.

I think a lot of people want to get involved, but [at present] there isn’t quite enough expertise out there to bring it all together. For example, in my own home, I have underfloor heating, radiators, a heat recovery system and solar water heating. All these [systems] need to be able to communicate with each other – it’s a lot of work to make this happen!

Q: What should governments, official bodies, etc, be doing to encourage more people to invest in sustainable technologies?

A: As with a lot of areas, I think that sustainable technologies are taking a hit, partly because of government spending reductions. Some of the low carbon home grants have been cut, but there are things that could be done to stimulate the housing market – for example, VAT on refurbs is currently 17.5%, but could be cut to 5%. Energy bills should be easier to understand, [while] we also need to ensure that if you use less energy, you pay less.

Q: What are you working on at present?

A: My main focus is my own eco home refurbishment. It’s been an enormous learning exercise to bring all types of materials and technologies to the process of making a 1960s’ detached house more energy efficient. The overall aim is to reduce the carbon footprint from 10 tonnes to 2.5 tonnes.

I am also finishing the current series of Dream Homes for the Discovery Channel, which should be broadcast in September. We follow people as they design and build their homes, as well as examining their underlying inspirations and the previous work of the architects. It’s a really interesting cross-section of building projects going on in the UK at the moment.

Oliver Heath was talking to David Davies. The above image is taken from a 2008 Heath Design project at the Green Living Centre in Islington, London.

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