This happens locally, through its impact on townscapes or countryside; regionally, through the sourcing, manufacture and transport of building materials, labour and water; or globally, through the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on our warming planet.
With careful forethought and design however, it is possible to mitigate the worst of a building’s impact and have a net positive benefit in terms of occupant health and well-being. We seek to position sustainability issues at the centre of the design brief and our projects undergo a checklist procedure to ensure that the best environmental practices are embedded in our schemes from the outset.
For multi-residential or commercial projects, our clients are often required to meet industry benchmarks on sustainability for planning or marketing reasons. The BREEAM rating (or Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) is the world’s longest-established method of certifying the sustainability of buildings, often recognised by Local Authorities and the industry as the leading benchmark of holistic sustainability.
Buildings are ranked by approved BREEAM Assessors under the headings of energy use, health and well-being, transport impacts, water conservation, materials, waste and so on.
Critics have long argued that conventional sustainability ratings do not necessarily deliver buildings that are truly low energy, high comfort environments, citing the so-called ‘performance gap’ between design and operation. For many, the answer is Passivhaus design, quite simply the most rigorous, best researched and most successful low energy design and quality assurance standard for buildings there is. Buildings that are independently certified as having achieved the Passivhaus standard are ensured to provide internal comfort standards that are of the highest standard in terms of health and air quality, for the absolute minimum expenditure of energy and fuel costs.
Passivhaus design is not only applicable for residential uses – it has been successfully used in the UK to deliver schools, university departments, offices and community centres. Through Passivhaus design techniques and technologies, these buildings use up to 80% less heating energy, with high internal air quality free of pollutants or dust and internal temperatures that never drop below comfortable with only the minimum of heat input.
Refurbishment has arguably a greater role to play in creating a more sustainable future than new developments, despite the obvious constraints or working with existing fabric and services. Retrofit is the term used to describe the upgrade of buildings with measures to improve their energy performance or health and well-being. These might include interventions such as additional of internal or external insulation; replacement fenestration, improved air tightness and ventilation or heating and hot water system upgrades.
For social landlords or local authorities, retrofit can have wider-ranging benefits above and beyond simply saving energy and reducing emissions. We have experience in projects where tenanted properties have been transformed through retrofit measures such as insulated over-cladding, window replacement, ventilation and air tightness upgrades and on-site renewable energy generation. With post-war stock in particular, improvements can be dramatic – up to 80% reduction in energy costs. The benefits to tenants in terms of having comfortable warm homes with affordable bills are tangible – improved health and mental well-being, greater security and less likelihood of getting into rent arrears. For landlords, comprehensive retrofit can extend the life of their housing assets for another 30-40 years and reduce the burden of complaints, repairs and maintenance. The key to a successful social housing retrofit is resident engagement and we can offer great experience in working with residents from the very beginning to gain support and ‘buy-in’ to any retrofit scheme – this is especially important where there may be leaseholders who quite understandably have a different set of concerns to tenants.
For many businesses and commercial enterprises, the recruitment and retention of high quality staff is the greatest investment they will make. For staff choosing a choosing a career move, on the other hand, decisions may be increasingly influenced as much by the quality of the workplace and the employer’s commitment to the green agenda as it is about pay and benefits.
Retrofit can therefore add enormous value to buildings through the creation of better quality working environments and the demonstration of corporate responsibility, not to mention the reduction in overheads and staff sickness. Time and time again, retrofit shows itself to be the more cost-effective and less disruptive option over demolition and rebuild.
Likewise, for other institutions such as schools and universities, these issues are high on the agenda and the retrofit of existing buildings can be transformational. For charities and community organisations alike, reducing running costs can make the difference between hand-to-mouth survival and continued economic sustainability.