Monday, 28 November 2011

Low Carbon Design: The power to deliver change

It is now recognised that in order to mitigate the effects of anthropogenic climate change we can not focus only on lowering the environmental impact of new construction, we must also improve the efficiency of those buildings which will continue to be a significant part of our built environment for years to come.

There are many challenges to be overcome in domestic and non-domestic retrofit, both technical and economic. How can we engage with the development of policy in the sector and put into practice the latest thinking on sustainability, retrofit and low carbon technology? How can architects and other industry professionals take advantage of the many opportunities arising in creative reuse and retrofit?

These issues were discussed in the recent RIBA Low Carbon Conference in Bristol. A brief overview of the issues discussed is outlined below. This is taken from the twitter diary written by RIBA Yorkshire’s Ruth Donnelly.

Harry Rich, CEO RIBA

Harry Rich, Chief Executive of RIBA welcomed everyone to the Low Carbon Design Conference in Bristol, by stating that at a time of changing policy and increasing focus on sustainability in the NPPF and other documents, professionals need to know how to progress. He expanded to say that this conference is about learning how to do exactly that.

Design and Planning for the age of climate change
Peter Madden, Forum for the Future

Peter Madden, Forum for the Future

Peter looked to the future and the impact of urbanism, increasing population, warming world and climate change, and questioned how we respond to this?

He suggested that the increasing use of smart technologies, to create smart buildings and smart cities would facilitate, and that the application of digital infrastructure to existing buildings would significantly improve the efficiencies of existing buildings. The dematerialisation associated with the advancement and reduction in size of technologies results in the need for fewer materials. This is an obvious environmental advantage.

In order to do this he pointed out the need to measure, manage and use resources more efficiently to enable buildings, cities and transport systems to work more successfully. The seamless integration of applications results in a convergence and joining up of thinking between applications and the physical world.

An example of this: people are taking more intelligent decisions about travel due to the technologies available, allowing them to choose shorter routes, or routes with the least congestion. This in turn has environmental benefits as it means vehicles are in use for shorter periods of time.

Is “smart” enough? What happens when the systems go wrong? Peter explained that there are three things to bear in mind for the future:
  • We need to design for resilience.
  • We need to design for participation so that people are not vulnerable to immense and speedy change.
  • We need to design for reduction, and make sure that we bear in mind total reduction, not just individual parts. As Aristotle said “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Peter concluded his talk by stating that technology can be a partner to be more sustainable future.

Overcoming the barriers in commercial retrofit
Patrick Brown: British Property Federation

Patrick Brown, British Property Federation

Patrick began his talk by asking us to remember that most of the buildings in use now will still be in use in 50 years; we need to focus on these.

He outlined that the main barriers to energy efficiency in commercial buildings are:operational issues,
  • information related issues,
  • commercial issues,
  • legal issues.
He outlined the policy responses:
  • Energy Performance Certificates;
  • The Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme (CRCEES);
  • The Green Deal.
The Green Deal is intended to revolutionise energy efficiency of buildings in England and Wales. The Energy Act was given Royal Assent 18 October 2011. The Green Deal is the coalition’s national plan of home improvements to make houses and businesses cheaper to run through better energy efficiency. From next year, people will be able to access finance to pay for the upfront cost of work which will be paid back through savings on lower fuel bills.The “Golden Rule” of Green Deal implies that customer will not be out of pocket and the cost of installation of energy saving devices is covered by savings in use.

The Green Deal outlines minimum energy efficiency standards that must be met by all properties. By April 2018 it will be unlawful to rent out a house or business premises which has less than an “E” energy efficiency rating, ensuring that at least 682,000 properties will have to improved.

Patrick identified 2 big questions regarding minimum standards:
  • When will the minimum standards come into effect? “BY” 2018 could actually mean much sooner
  • To what extent, if any, will leases already in existence at deadline be grandfathered?
Patrick noted that 18% of existing property  are F/G EPC rated. Owners and occupiers of small and medium enterprises are likely to be exposed to F/G rated properties, and are also likely to be more reliant on Green Deal finance.

Patrick makes suggestions as to how to move forward:
  • CRCEES should be replaced with a simple retrospective Carbon Tax;
  • League table needs to be revised to encourage joint energy efficiency programmes: reputational drivers;
  • Carbon reporting is needed to encourage board level attention, provide important incentives;
  • Clarity needed on minimum buildings energy performance standards. An early warning would impact on market;
  • Fiscal incentives needed for deeper retrofit: use existing tax levers (SDLT,Business Rates, ECAs, VAT) to stimulate retrofit;
  • Cultural change needed in addition to policy change. A publicity drive is needed to “name and shame.” This needs to include actual energy use in addition to the theoretical energy efficiency of properties;
  • Should minimum standards be applied to historic buildings? BPF is in the process of preparing a report to government.
Harry Rich concluded that partnership is needed between developers, property owners and designers, and that information about property energy use needs to be shared.

Opportunities and challenges in low carbon delivery
Angela Brady, RIBA President and Director of Brady Mallalieu Architects

Angela Brady, PRIBA

Angela gave an overview of the challenges and opportunities for architects in delivering on the low carbon agenda and why the profession needs to tool up now.

Angela stated that if you could see carbon, we might take more notice, but as it is invisible, many people do not believe the problem exists. Angela uses the work of Dave Hampton as a good example of this. He is the government’s “Carbon Coach” and uses a big purple balloon to visualise the quantity of 1 kilogram of carbon. This is very easy to relate to. To put it in context, the UK need to aim to reduce their carbon intake to 2000kg per person per year.

Angela identified four key challenges:
  • financial: £2 Billion needs to deal with the problem;
  • natural resources: reliance on oil and gas. Angela identifies that oil should be reserved for use in plastics not fuel;
  • clients: sharing of knowledge needed;
  • political will: politics shapes architecture. Politicians need to show real leadership to take climate change seriously.
Angela questioned how we, as architects, persuade our clients to go that little bit further? The answer is that we need to get others on board. The energy/carbon hierarchy 5 golden rules are:
  • engage;
  • reduce energy demand;
  • drive out waste;
  • decarbonise;
  • neutralise energy supplies.
There has been a big shift in power with the Localism agenda. Architects need to learn to engage. She outlined the following as examples of engagement used to date:
  • RIBA Plan of Work has been reproduced with a green overlay to encourage clients to do more;
  • Angela highlights the great work the Tree Design Access Group do to highlight the importance of trees;
  • Manchester University are doing research on the effects of urbanisation;
  • RIBA Building Futures;
  • RIBA Guides to Localism: Opportunities for architects;
  • With carbon targets ahead, schools need to become involved. Architects can “adopt a school” and talk to pupils about buildings in local area.
Angela concluded by stating that need to slow down and consume less.


“I’ve seen the future”: Zero Carbon House, Birmingham
John Christophers, Associated Architects

John Christophers, Associated Architects

John Christophers designed the first and only retrofit house to achieve Code for Sustainable Homes Level 6 (before criteria changed). This was a house for himself that was shortlisted for the RIBA Manser Medal 2010. It focused on natural lighting, air-tightness and the use of low carbon building materials.

Dr Lubo Jankoviv, Birmingham City University BIAD centre for low carbon research is undertaking post occupancy research into the actual carbon use of the property. To date there have been no fuel bills and income is generated from energy produced by the house. It is predicted that the payback for the green technologies is 8.6 years.

The general sustainable design principles are:
  • High thermal mass means that internal temperatures are relatively constant despite external fluctuations. Unfired clay masonry blocks were used for walls and to increase thermal mass. John explained that the external wall design was the most cost efficient and carbon efficient for that site. In an inner city site with high land values, a thinner wall construction could be used with a more thermally efficient but less carbon efficient insulant.
  • Insulation and air tightness is absolutely key to the success of this building. John explained that as little as a 1mm gap in insulation would result in more than 450% reduction in airtightness so it was important to get this right. There is no thermal bridging and insulation wraps round building. There are no metal ties and resin adhesive is used to attach insulation onto masonry. The general concern with airtight buildings is that condensation occurs due to lack of ventilation. John explained that we need ventilation, but this needs to be controlled: i.e. not through fabric
  • Ash tree in the garden has two uses: solar shading in summer, supplementary fuel for wood-burning stove in winter.
  • Natural light from above is between 3 and 5 times effective than light coming through a window. The design of the house makes the most of top lighting to bring light deep into the house. Mirrors are also used to bounce light into the space and also as a heat store.
  • Recycled materials were used as much as possible: reclaimed timber and ironmongery was used for floors, doors, stairs
John concluded by stating that he believes that designing for climate change can be a positive force.


Unilever Corporate Headquarters London: A case study in sustainable redevelopment

Laura King, KPF
Michelle Taylor from Unilever started by giving the point of view of the client. She stated that the building needed to be a good workplace for staff, it had to respect the heritage of the existing building but act as efficiently as a modern building. The driving principle behind the new building was the ambition of Unilever to double the size of its business while reducing its environmental impact.

She explained that they discovered how to improve the use of the building by tracking how people used the existing building and learning from experience.

Laura King from KPF gave the architects point of view and described how they transformed the aspirations of the client into built form.

KPF used engagement techniques to identify how Unilever staff use their office space to feed into space planning. They also looked at efficiencies in terms of space planning and sustainability with the aim to gain a better use of space whilst reducing financial and environmental costs.

They undertook plan analysis looking at the history of the building and how it had been added to and changed over the years.
KPF then learnt from past mistakes and positives to create a better building.
Dr James Thonger from Arup explained the environmental principles behind the building:
  • 43% reduction in external fa├žade from original building: therefore reduction in solar heat gain;
  • Recycling of materials;
  • Replace all glazing with double glazed low E low G-value glazing;
  • Insulate all external facades including a vapour barrier;
  • The former building was a natrally ventilated building due to its narrow floor plates. The new design required full mechanical system. This used a system with low energy air movement
Harry Rich concluded that this project shows how the shared aspirations and a great relationship between client and design team can result in an exemplary building. The building achieves exemplary energy efficiency and sustainability standards in design, construction and operation.

Energy efficiency and buildings retrofit: the Government’s approach
Phil Wynn Owen, Department for Energy and Climate Change

Phil Wynn Owen, Department for Energy and Climate Change
Phil started by discussing The Green Deal.

The UK building stock is responsible for 43% energy use, and is some of the worst in developed world. The Green Deal enables private companies to make energy efficiency available to millions of homes and businesses at no upfront cost. It also paves the way for a new Energy Company Obligation (ECO). The intention is that energy savings should equal or exceed payments of the installation bill. The Government will be promoting the Green Deal locally, with advice and support for customers. It is seen as a future solution by making carbon savings at a household level.

He explained that the customer journey would involve:
  • Advice; there will be a lot of time spent educating people how to use technologies to enable flexible customer use/control;
  • Finance; 
  • Installation: suppliers will need to be accredited in order to join the scheme; 
  • Repayments: Electricity suppliers collect Green Deal payments via customer bills.
The benefits were outlined as:Reduce energy demand and carbon emissions
  • Improve thermal efficiency of properties;
  • Save households and businesses money.
Green Deal timeline:
  • Autumn 2011: launch consultation; 
  • Spring 2012: publish secondary legislation and Government response;
  • October 2012: Green Deal launched;
  • Spring 2013: ECO launched.
The government’s aim is that the Green Deal will help to revitalise construction industry.
Phil expressed hope that architectural practices will take the opportunity to get involved. This may be by providing expertise in terms of retrofit; building systems; or even upgrading whole streets or areas. Manchester City Council is currently looking into upgrading whole areas through this process. Architects may also provide specialist expertise in terms of heritage and planning; solid wall insulation and planning; understanding of building industry; or through research programmes.

Phil went on to discuss the zero carbon standard. The Zero carbon standard for all new homes will be in place from 2016. The Zero Carbon Hub are helping to prepare the industry for this policy change. Phil explained that the Government took the lead and in one of his first speeches, the Primeminister demanded that Government buildings had to cut carbon usage by 10% in 12 months. Reduction has recently been confirmed as surpassing this and achieving a 13% reduction.

The Green Overlay
Bill Gething, Sustainability and Architecture

Green Overlay to the RIBA Plan of Work
The “green overlay” to the RIBA Plan of Work has recently been published. This was prepared following discussion by a group of architects from large and small practice, engineers and academics. Bill Gething was the Chair of the panel.

Bill explained that the changes made to the 2007 Plan of Work are mere tweeks, and resulted in a change of a total of 39 words. These words are to bring awareness to sustainable issues at various points throughout the design and construction process.

In addition to the change in wording the document includes Sustainability Checkpoints to bear in mind alongside the Plan of Work.

The overlay is just the beginning of a series of work that is underway to do with sustainability and the design and construction process. A similar piece of work is underway to do with BIM and its impact on the process.

Bill explained that the issues with Plan of Work is that the design and construction process is not a linear process. He explained that the green overlay acts as a  trigger for reminders on issues that need to be considered at the various stages.

The Green Overlay to the Plan of Work can be downloaded here

Harry Rich finished the afternoon by asking a question to the day’s speakers: if you could change one thing (feasible or not) to change sustainability agenda in the UK what would it be?

Stephen Taylor from AHMM: measurement and post occupancy evaluation.
Lewis Lowe, Octavia Housing Association: make the public aware of the benefits of low carbon buildings in terms of cost and comfort.
Dr James Thonger, Arup: a coherent plan needs to be put in place to achieve the required 80% reduction in energy usage.
Bill Gething, Sustainable Architecture: create energy quotas/rationing so that if these are exceeded, fines are in place to cover the cost of installation of insulation and other measures.