The thermometer sinks below zero as a blizzard of fine snow descends on two houses freshly built inside a massive laboratory in northern England. Despite the icy conditions, the two energy-efficient homes remain cosy and warm due to their use of cutting-edge heating and insulation technology. Welcome to Energy House 2.0 — a science experiment designed to help the world’s housebuilders slash carbon emissions, save energy and tackle climate change. The project, based in a laboratory resembling a giant warehouse on Salford University campus near the centre of Manchester, opened last month. Rain, wind, sunshine and snow can be recreated in temperatures ranging from 40 degrees Celsius to -20C, operated from a control centre. “What we’ve tried to achieve here is to be able to replicate the weather conditions that would be experienced around 95 percent of the populated Earth,” Professor Will Swan, head of energy house laboratories at the university, told AFP. The facility, comprising two chambers that can experience different weather at the same time, will test types of housing from all over the world “to understand how we deliver their net-zero and energy-efficient homes”, he added. The two houses, which are quintessentially British and constructed by firms with UK operations, will remain in place for a few years. Other builders will then be able to rent space in the lab to put their own properties under the spotlight. The project’s first house was built by UK property firm Barratt Developments and French materials giant Saint-Gobain. It is clad with decorative bricks over a frame of wood panels and insulation, with solar panels on the roof. Scientists are examining the efficiency of several different types of heating systems, including air-source heat pumps. In the living room, a hot-water circuit is located along the bottom of the walls, while further heat is provided via infra-red technology in the moulding and from a wall panel. Mirrors also act as infra-red radiators while numerous sensors monitor which rooms are in use. Residents will be able to manage the technology via one single control system similar to Amazon’s voice-activated Alexa interface.