Whether you are looking to reduce your energy costs; create a healthier, more comfortable space to live or work; or simply want to act more responsibly towards our environment, choosing to build more ecologically is one of the most effective steps you can make.
Sustainable design embraces energy-saving construction techniques, avoids the use of environmentally-damaging building materials and seeks to create buildings that are simple to understand and operate yet economic to build.
With the right design skills, passion and attention to detail, it is possible to build homes that can be:
• heated almost entirely through occupation and the warmth of the sun alone (yes, even here in the UK);
• equipped to harness that same solar power to generate hot water or electricity;
• crafted from components and technologies that don’t cost, or damage, the earth;
• fashioned to deliver indoor spaces that are healthier to live in, regardless of the environment found beyond the doorstep.
Eco building also means favouring the use of green materials such as timber, natural insulations or clay products over the specification of concrete or petro-chemical-derived foams and plastics since far less energy is used, or carbon dioxide emitted, in their manufacture – some plant-based materials even lock in carbon. We have valuable experience in selecting and designing with such products and will be able to suggest the most appropriate eco specification for your building.
By far the biggest environmental impact of any home is the heat energy used over its lifetime. In the order of 62% of all household energy use is for space heating, with a further 18% for hot water generation plus 3% on lighting, 3% on cooking appliances and the remaining 14% on general electrical appliances. Clearly, cutting down on heat energy use should be the overriding consideration in the design of eco-friendly buildings and we seek to design buildings that perform well above basic Building Regulations. With greater consideration given to compact building forms, higher insulation levels and orientation that takes advantage of free solar energy, our Low Energy designs can reduce fuel bills significantly.
We can improve even further on this, however, through Passivhaus design techniques and technologies to deliver homes that 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. Passivhaus homes are quieter, healthier and more sustainable than any other dwellings – so much so that many European cities now insist on Passivhaus standards for all new buildings. 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 warmth and air quality, for the absolute minimum expenditure of energy and fuel costs – who wouldn’t want to live in a place with those credentials? Passivhaus also puts the ‘net zero carbon’ home within easy reach of house holders, for example, through a roof-mounted photovoltaic array
For existing home owners, refurbishment can also offer an opportunity to significantly improve energy performance and comfort standards, alongside works to improve internal arrangements or daylighting or add an extension. Upgrades to homes making use of solid wall insulation, replacement windows or whole house ventilation have the potential to significantly reduce energy bills and improve living conditions to a level similar to new-build eco homes. The potential for retrofit will vary according to house typology and age but, whatever the refurbishment being considered, it is beneficial to follow a ‘whole building’ strategy. The most cost-effective approach is to ‘do it once and do it well’ ie make the most significant cuts in energy use with the main intervention and, at the very least, avoid barriers to future upgrades through half measures.
The complexity of retrofit means that architects are well placed to deliver the comprehensive design management role necessary to achieve the desired outcomes, through rigorous technical analysis, sensitive design decisions, reliable supplier selection and good quality installation practices on site to effective occupier engagement and handover regimes. The need to retrofit our existing buildings to reduce greenhouse emissions is unequivocal but what is not always understood is the full potential of ‘deep’ retrofit, by which we mean measures that generate significant reductions in space-heating demand, in the order of 75-90%. For example, the EnerPHit standard is the world’s leading retrofit energy standard and comes from the Passivhaus Institute, with the same attention to detail and design rigour. Low Energy refurbishment can not only minimise operational costs and enhance comfort standards but can also increase property values.