Friday, 30 July 2021

 What Do I Need To Know About Planning A Sustainable New Build?


In 2021 there is nothing more important than building eco. Energy efficiency is top on the list of priorities for many of us when building or buying our homes. The construction industry, as I have stated in previous blogs, plays a huge part in the sustainability of our environment. Currently it is one of the largest contributors of carbon emissions in the UK, so it is more important than ever that we, as an industry, take note and start to rectify these issues. 


The Government has taken action. Not only has a deadline 2050 been set for zero carbon emissions, there are also other schemes to help us, as individuals, to ensure our current homes, as well as new builds, achieve the best possible energy efficiency rating. 


Get help at the EARLIEST possible stage


Regardless of the size of your build, in order to build sustainably, or even build at all, you will need to plan! There are many aspects to having an eco-build and you need to make sure that these methods, materials and designs are implemented correctly. I know I sound like a broken record but the best way, and in my opinion the ‘only’ way to do this, is to speak with the professionals at the earliest possible stages. I know sometimes people think this is all about ‘making money’ but it really isn’t. If your car needed fixing, updating or even upgrading, you would go to a mechanic. This is no different. In order to get the best results, you need to know HOW to get the best results, and who’s more equipped to do this than an assessor? 


The experts will be able to help you from the planning stage. You might be surprised to know that the design of your build plays a huge part in ensuring the energy efficiency of your build. If you don’t know how to do this, or if you don’t follow this advice, then you really will fall at the first hurdle! 


Use The Right Materials 


When constructing an energy efficient build, you need to make sure you use the right materials. There is no point getting the plans right only to install below par windows, for example. 


There are certain aspects which are usually at the top of the list when building to a high energy efficiency specification, and windows are up there with the best. Not only will they need to have U-values below 0.8 for passive house but they will also need to be positioned to receive the most natural light all year round. This is where your design comes into play. You can see how easy it is to omit certain aspects. 


Not only will you need to consider windows but you will need to look at things such as MVHR and the potential use of a timber frame. Timber frames are extremely energy efficient as they have a high degree of thermal insulation as well as being ethically sourced. You will have to consider the insulation used in your build and ensure it is sufficient for the type of build you’re completing. Air tightness is absolutely paramount for the whole build to work in harmony at 0.6 ACH (air changes an hour). Your Air Tightness test will ensure your build doesn’t have any gaps where unregulated air can escape from the property or even enter the property. 


Renewable Energy Sources


It goes without saying but all energy has to come from somewhere. To ensure you complete an energy efficient build you will need to consider the use of renewable energy sources such as Solar PV, Air source Heat Pumps or even Ground Source Heat Pumps. Solar PV, as I’m sure you’re aware, takes energy from the sun and uses it to generate electricity. There is also the option for Solar Thermal, which is again where energy is taken from the sun and this is used to heat your water. Both are great systems to install in your energy efficient home. Air Source Heat Pumps use heat from the outside air to warm up your home. They are extremely energy efficient and even work well in the winter! The Ground Source Heat pump works on a very similar basis. However, instead of using heat from the air, it takes heat from the ground. 


Energy Efficient Appliances


Once your build is up and running you could be forgiven to think all is done and sorted. But you haven’t finished yet. You need to think about the appliances that you have in your build. Each appliance will have its own energy efficiency rating, from washing machines, to fridges and everything in between. All of these will contribute to your build’s overall energy rating. Don’t forget the small things, even LED lightbulbs need consideration. If you’re trying to ensure that your build is as energy efficient as possible then every last detail needs to be thoroughly thought out. 


As I say, there is a lot to consider, more than I can put down here. But you don’t have to do it alone. There are many companies out there who can help you sort out the details. If you want to go through anything, I know of this fine little company which is always willing to help.

Friday, 23 July 2021

Can I Make My Current House Passive?


Ok, I am often heard talking about Passive House (Passivhaus) Standard but one of the main questions I get asked is “Can I turn my current home into a passive house?” So, with that in mind I thought I would break it down.


Sustainability and energy efficiency are becoming the ‘norm’.  Already, when building, we have to adhere to certain guidelines in order to pass regulations. So most builds will now conform to higher energy efficiency standards than previously, which is always a good start. Obviously it goes without saying, that building from scratch is the easiest and most efficient way of ensuring you reach Passive House Standards. But, I also appreciate that this isn’t always possible. You might not have the ability to move, you might just like your home and location, but you just want to ensure you’re getting the most from your home. Whatever your reason, there are things which can be done which will bring you closer to Passive Standard. Be warned though, they’re not all easy in retrospect and can sometimes, depending on your home, be quite costly. Achieving Passive Standard in retrospect is a very difficult task, some would say impossible. 


Don’t be alarmed or put off though. Whatever happens improvements CAN be made. 


When building a Passive House, you would need to consider every part of construction, right down to the design. Obviously, without demolishing your home, this isn’t something you can change in its entirety. You can of course add extensions or renovate the home, but the design will ultimately not be suited to Passive House. 


When constructing a Passive House, you would need to ensure that it is completely air tight, and you would also have to think about the materials that you use. Passive Homes are often constructed using timber frames. Timber frames are used for many reasons, ranging from being more environmentally friendly, to giving better insulation. 


What Can I do If I Want to Retrofit My Home To Passive Standards?


The Passivhaus Institute has set out a new standard for anyone who is looking to achieve Passive House Standard in a retrofit property. If you wanted to read more about it check out this link.


Ideally, with this standard, you would manage to reduce your heating demand by up to 90% by using passive methods. 


In order to meet this standard, you will need to provide proof of the following:


·      Improved Thermal Insulation

·      Reduction of Thermal Bridges

·      Excellent/Improved Air Tightness

·      Use of high-quality windows and doors, potentially even ones which are designed specifically for Passive House Standard

·      Effective and improved heat generation

·      Implementation of renewable energy sources. 


So, to answer your question “Can I make my current home a Passive House?” The answer is yes, and no. The chances are you wouldn’t be able to meet the Passive House Standards of a new build, but you have every chance of meeting the standards set out specifically, by Passivhaus, for a retrofit. 


Don’t forget, when you’re undertaking your Building Compliances it is always best to work with an assessor at the earliest possible stage, especially for something like retrofits. You know what, I think I know a company who could help 😉



Friday, 16 July 2021

What Is Thermal Bridging And Why Do We Get It?


Thermal bridging usually happens when there are gaps in the building’s envelope. A thermal bridge can also be referred to as a cold bridge. Typically, this can happen if there is a gap or a break in the insulation. This can occur when the insulation itself has been penetrated with something that actually has a higher thermal conductivity. 


A cold bridge will not only allow the loss of heat, but it will also cause any warm air inside your building to cool down. This isn’t ideal, in fact it’s far from ideal. Thermal bridging and cold bridging need to be eradicated as early as possible by making sure that your build is designed well, constructed well and the materials used are the best. You will also need to know what materials can work in unison, and what materials could cause potential problems. If you know what the causes are, or why thermal bridging happens, then you’re halfway there. As I say, knowledge is power!


Buildings are now starting to be better insulated in the hope that this will contribute to the overall energy performance of the build. However, if you experience thermal bridging it can severely impact your build. The heat loss from this can be quite dramatic, which why it is important to ensure that this doesn’t happen. 


If cold bridging happens then you could experience mould. As we all know, not only is mould unsightly, it can also be very problematic and even, in severe cases, cause health issues. 


The design of your build can play a big part in whether you experience thermal bridging. The design of buildings isn’t just to decide how your home, office or project will look. It actually dictates how your build will perform, in terms of energy efficiency. The materials used and the workmanship of your build are also important factors. 


If you’re currently building, or planning on building you need to know that either you, if you’re self -building, or your workforce, know and understand thermal bridges, as well as cold bridges. They will need to know and understand what building components will interact with each other. The heat itself will always find the easiest route to escape. Thermal bridging can cause up to 30% heat loss! That’s a huge reduction!


Breaks in the building’s envelope are usually found around the windows or doors, between the walls and floors, the connections between the walls and roof or penetrations from pipes, cables and steel wall ties. This isn’t to say that it can’t happen anywhere else; these are just the most common areas and ones to look out for. Make sure that you fully understand how both thermal bridges and cold bridges happen before you start construction. 


Older buildings commonly have thermal bridges, which can be down to the construction methods, design, materials used, a general misunderstanding or even poor workmanship. The regulations we now have to adhere to in construction, help to ensure that our builds are the best that they can be. These regulations have got tougher over the years, so it is quite understandable that thermal bridging is often seen in older homes. 


Prevention is always better than a cure, so don’t rest on your laurels. Ensure you know all there is to know before construction begins, before design even. Make sure you have a great team behind you and seek help from the experts at the early stages. That’s what they’re there for after all. 


Friday, 9 July 2021

Net Zero Carbon Emissions, What Does It Mean?

We’ve all be talking about the 2050 deadline the Government has set, but what is it going to take for us to reach?


Thankfully this initiative is going to open up many jobs for the construction industry and after the last year it couldn’t come at a better time. In order to reach these targets it’s not just new builds which have to be held accountable, but also existing homes. We currently have roughly 7-8 million lofts which need more insulation, roughly 19-20 million uninsulated floors and 4-5 million uninsulated cavity walls. All of these need to be upgraded in order to reach the target!


They sound like huge numbers, and I am in no way suggesting it’s going to be easy, but in the grand scheme of things, with the right task force, I have every faith. 


While it is relatively easy to build energy efficient homes, it isn’t always as easy to upgrade older builds. Not only were they built to completely different standards, they potentially used different materials and techniques. Also, let’s face it, everything is always harder to fit in retrospect. 


What we have to remember is that if we’re going to achieve net zero we need all four nations to be on board and singing from the same hymn sheet. Scotland has actually said it will be net zero by 2045, 5 years earlier than the rest of the UK. That’s quite a challenge, but who am I to argue? 


Unfortunately, it seems that when building, a lot of us are more concerned with what our homes look like and not how they perform. I can understand this logic, we’re human, we’re visual creatures, we want our homes to look nice, but we shouldn’t disregard our home’s energy efficiency. What we need to remember is that the better performing homes are cheaper to run. So, not only is the Government trying to reach its target of 2050, it is also helping to reduce the energy costs. The more the energy efficient your home is, the less you’ll be paying out in monthly bills. So actually, it’s a win win. 


There are many schemes happening now which offer home owners the opportunity to upgrade things, such as loft insulation and cavity wall insulation. The Government will pay a certain percentage towards the costs, and in some cases you wouldn’t have to pay a penny! It’s always worth checking your local Council’s site to see what schemes they have taking place in your area. 


As well as homes, it is also important, actually vital, for businesses to decarbonise. As political figures met at the G7 last month it became evident that there seems to be growing support for investment in green sectors. It’s become fairly obvious that without reducing the energy demand you won’t reduce the emissions. We, collectively, need to take away the energy demand and replace it with something much more energy efficient to continue down the path of net zero carbon emissions.


The goal with our builds is, as stated, to have net zero energy use. This means that homes, new builds or refurbishments, must produce enough energy to meet the needs of the build, for example the hot water and heating etc. Although up-front these homes can cost more to build, in the long run you recoup the costs from the money saved in bills. 




Friday, 2 July 2021


How Has The Pandemic Changed Our Housing?


I know, I know, we’re still here talking about the pandemic when all we want to do is get back to normality. But what is normal now, aside from the fact that our working lives have dramatically changed, from social distancing to reduced numbers and a smaller workforce? We keep hoping that we will be back to pre-pandemic life, but things just aren’t that simple. 


During the various lockdowns and restrictions we’ve all experienced around the world throughout this pandemic, we have had no choice but to rethink our needs. Whereas before COVID19 some wouldn’t have thought twice about having an apartment or flat, now people are craving the outside space, you know, just in case. 


But what does this mean for us, as developers?


It comes down to the fact that we’re going to have to re-think how we build. Developers have always built according to needs and desires, as well as budget. If people are changing their requirements, then we have no choice but to open up discussions to potentially change what we offer. 


As things currently stand, you have to pass your Sound Test in order to have your build signed off. Now, as with all these Building Compliances, there are levels to this. You can achieve the basic pass, or you can really ensure you have covered all bases and get top results. This might sound like a small part of the jigsaw, but it’s a contributory factor nonetheless. Flats and apartments are often hubs of sound. You can hear your neighbours walking around, hear them talking, hear their music, and hear if they have guests. You can hear them in the communal areas, such as the hallway or on the stairs. When people are confined, it can become quite a noisy environment. Perhaps this is a good place to start a simple, yet effective improvement to apartment living. Improving on the sound insulation can improve the health of the occupants. 


Now we can move on to space. Although a lot of the restrictions have been lifted, which have seen more people going back to their place of work, they have also allowed for more flexibility of home working. Some companies have realised that actually they no longer need the office spaces, and the bills that come with them. Others have a combination of both home working and office-based work. Either way, there are more people reliant on their homes to provide them with a working environment. This means, as developers, architects, and designers, we have to consider this option when building. Before COVID19, unless you were already home-based, you might not have thought much about having a study. You would perhaps have used it as a spare room or store room or you just might not have had the space in the first place. Now, buyers are looking for more versatility in their homes. They need to be able to have that space, or they need to be able to have clever design so, if they need it, they have options. There is a shift in thought regarding home-based working. People don’t want to feel trapped, they want to feel they are in control, so that they can, if they choose, alter their homes to fit their needs without having the added expense of moving. This also applies to exercise space, entertainment space and, obviously, general day-to-day living. 


There is an excellent article here‘new-normal’-apartment-buildingswhich discusses the way in which we are changing our needs. This study, although completed in America, sets out what we need to do, as developers, to continue to meet the needs of our customers. It’s not a bad read and certainly gives some insight into the changes that need to be made in order to meet the standards we’re now being held to with regards to apartment/flat living. 


As flats/apartments don’t tend to always have their own outside space it’s now more important than ever to provide this. It can include things such as balconies or shared communal green areas. It’s escapism at its finest. No one wants to be cooped up staring at the same four walls, day-in day-out. You’d be surprised (or perhaps not anymore) how much of a positive impact a bit of fresh air can have. 


So, what do we do now?


Well, we do what we have always done and deliver what people want. The difficulty here is to not go over budget. These homes, whether we’re talking about houses, flats, or complexes, need to be within budget. People’s budgets have not dramatically changed. We need to be able to think outside the box, look to alternatives without compromising on design or quality. It might sound like a challenge, and I guess it is. But one thing our industry isn’t afraid of is hard work! 



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