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Larkfleet Homes launches ‘Test House’ to demonstrate feasibility of new building technologies

13 Nov 12 Housebuilder Larkfleet Homes, part of the Larkfleet Group, has constructed a new Startlink ‘test house’ alongside its headquarters in Lincolnshire that demonstrates the potential for housing to be constructed much faster, more energy-efficiently and at reduced costs in the future.

Following many months of collaborative research, Larkfleet (as part of a consortium) has developed Startlink Lightweight Building Systems (SLBS) – energy-efficient, low cost housing that is quick to build using lightweight, energy-saving materials and innovative, labour-saving assembly techniques.

Importantly, the housing is designed to mitigate flood risk and may even make it possible to develop housing in areas of potential flooding – a major issue in many areas throughout the country.

The Startlink test house was constructed as a modular building in which all the parts were pre-designed to fit neatly together without cutting, resulting in no site waste. The major components are pultruded glass reinforced composite modules which can be rapidly assembled into a wide variety of low-rise buildings without metal fastenings.

Organic fibre insulation has been used to control internal temperature and humidity. The house has a mechanical ventilation heat recovery (MVHR) system which is the main space heating system, supplemented by electricity produced by solar PV (photovoltaic) panels. The domestic hot water is provided by solar thermal panels.

Using natural fibre insulation, the Startlink test house has lower embodied energy than traditionally built homes.

Also, SLBS materials are much lighter and less dense than either mild steel or reinforced concrete (the two conventional structural materials) so have the effect of greatly reducing the embodied energy in any structure made from them.

Lightweight buildings such as Larkfleet’s Startlink test house (which weighs just 18 tonnes compared to a conventional 40 tonne house) need less energy to heat in winter. The low-maintenance system offers the possibility of extremely energy-efficient housing.

The Startlink test house also has a ‘green’ roof which not only gives thermal mass but also retains water and therefore provides evaporative cooling during summer.

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The SLBS processes and products which Larkfleet helped to develop with its consortium partners provide the opportunity for housing to be constructed much faster, more energy-efficiently and at reduced costs in the future.

If built and furnished with suitable flooring material and decorative finishes on the ground floor, Startlink homes are highly ‘flood resistant’.

The absence of extensive foundations and the nature of the pultruded materials of construction means that the structure is unaffected by flood water. If the house is flooded, it can swiftly and (compared with conventional homes) inexpensively be brought back into use. This may make it possible to construct such homes in areas where flood risks mean that the construction of conventional buildings is not viable.

In the longer term, the light weight of the homes opens the intriguing possibility that they could be built on foundations which would rise in response to flooding – keeping the house itself entirely clear of the water.

This is one of the areas which Larkfleet hopes to explore in the next phase of Startlink research.

The new building methods and materials were developed with the assistance of funding from the government’s Technology Strategy Board. In addition to Larkfleet Homes, other members of the consortium are Exel Composites UK, Odour Control Systems Ltd, Warwick University, The Costain Group and conservation architect John Hutchinson.

South Kesteven District Council leader Cllr Linda Neal recently officially opened the Startlink test house with Larkfleet managing director, Karl Hick.

Larkfleet managing director Karl Hick commented:  “The official opening of the Startlink test house builds on Larkfleet’s strong record in creating sustainable homes and communities. The construction of the test house has proven the technical feasibility of SLBS products and processes which could be used very effectively in the construction of future housing developments.”

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