Gentoo Group's Story
The £9m scheme is central to Gentoo’s net zero carbon journey and combines its commitment to climate change and fuel poverty, with the provision of safe and affordable housing in the City of Sunderland. The ground-breaking project put the voice of tenants at the heart of housing modernisation and upgrades to the tower blocks. The scheme involved replacing inefficient gas boilers in 364 properties across seven high-rise blocks on Wearside, with an open loop ground source heat pump system, which takes renewable heat from the earth’s core to uniquely generate both heat and hot water.
The project originated from Gentoo's need to modernise the gas-powered heating and hot water system in the tower blocks and the removal of gas was proposed to align with Gentoo's decarbonising heat strategy and Sunderland City Council's Low Carbon Framework. It's estimated that this pioneering scheme will create a significant carbon reduction of 377,475 kg of CO2 per year, equating to a carbon saving of 8,322 tCO2 over the next 20 years.
Considerable building safety improvements also drove the project. Prior to the Grenfell Tower fire, these blocks had been fitted with small amounts of decorative ACM cladding, which was removed as soon as this came to light. The safety of the tower blocks was maximised by the installation of life-saving sprinkler systems to all properties and communal areas, as well as upgraded fire stopping.
Useful Learnings from Gentoo Group
Core 364 was the first project to employ Ground Source Heat Pump technology within high-rise tower blocks via an open loop system on a large scale and has led the way as a blueprint for large-scale climate change retrofit and building safety improvement schemes in the housing sector, which is already planned to be replicated in cities across the UK.
The success and learning taken from this project have enabled all partners to develop more effective installation models which have the ability to provide even greater carbon saving. Our advice is as follows:
- Ensure you engage tenants from the outset. This system is fundamentally different from what they're used. Take time to invest in engaging tenants by taking tenants on-site visits to similar schemes, setting up a pilot property where they can visit, see how it works and talk about the system and most importantly have a robust customer liaison package when the works are on-site to help, support and guide the customers through the works to their homes.
- Take time in the planning stages to get the little details right. From radiator and thermostat positions to how communal areas will be affected by pipework, focusing on the smaller details early on will benefit you in the long run.
- Embrace the technology. Invest in smart technology and thermostats so you can monitor usage and trust that the technology you have installed will work.
- Installing new meters can be difficult. Try and find a key utility provider to work with you to install new meters.
- Accept that things will go wrong. Working on a pioneering project means you need to be prepared to face hurdles, you just need to be ready to make them right. On Core 364, we faced issues with not having a backup heating system installed. Although it's an additional cost, we advise you to have a backup heating option installed as it's a failsafe in the event of an issue with the system.