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The building blocks for better efficiency

Date: 30/10/2013 | Author: Adrienne Robins

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Quantum PR director Adrienne Robins looks at how the construction sector is advancing resource efficiency

Last month the Scottish government published its plans for a more resource efficient future. In ‘Zero Waste – Safeguarding Scotland’s Resources’ the government outlines a mix of voluntary and regulatory actions that it believes will help embed a culture of resource efficiency. 

One of the first changes to be instigated will be the new waste regulations being introduced on 1st January requiring all Scottish businesses to collect and present metal, plastic, glass, paper and card waste separately. Food waste for producers exceeding 50kg a week will also be targeted.

In the construction sector, new Scottish building standards to be introduced in 2015 will improve the energy efficiency and carbon dioxide emissions of all new homes. Further ambitions include the introduction of site waste management plans and the introduction of a new re-use standard.  

With the house building sector showing continued signs of improvement, it’s important that Scottish resource efficiency plans are not overshadowed by the enthusiasm to deliver units in order to meet renewed demand.

In the third quarter of 2012 the NHBC in Scotland registered 1,985 new homes. This increased to 2,759 for the same period this year. Recognising this increased activity, it’s important that resource efficiency and sustainability continue to be a focus for house builders. The same focus needs to be reflected in commercial and public infrastructure projects.

Resource Efficient HouseA focus on sustainability is exactly what’s on offer from the Building Research Establishment (BRE) which earlier this autumn opened the doors to its Resource Efficient House at the Innovation Park, Ravenscraig. The Resource Efficient House is a project which aims to promote and inspire sustainability through the best use and management of materials, energy and water in new residential house building projects – and it’s a practical showcase for what can be achieved by house builders who are looking to the future.

This is not the first house of its kind. The BRE’s Innovation Park at Watford has been home to a range of sustainable, low carbon buildings and technologies for almost a decade and there is a second regional demonstrator park at Ebbw Vale in Wales. Further parks are planned for China, Brazil, Canada and the United States, with the intention of providing a knowledge bridge and to enable collaborative projects.

The Scottish House is, however, the most up to date and as such the most progressive. While it has been much discussed in sustainability sectors, the question is will it influence design and product specification trends, delivering changes within the construction sector and also facilitating householder resource efficiencies?

Said to be “a ground-breaking project which aims to promote and encourage the construction of sustainable and affordable family homes across the country”, the house has been developed by Zero Waste Scotland under the Resource Efficient Scotland programme and in partnership with Tigh Grian Limited. A contemporary, three-bedroom home, it has been designed to meet forthcoming 2016 Building Standards to at least Gold Performance levels and so provides the construction sector with “an affordable and flexible prototype which can be replicated by house builders in Scotland and beyond”.

The website for the house states that: “every element of this net zero carbon house has been created with the need to lessen our impact on the environment. With careful selection of materials and inclusion of various green technologies, this house is highly energy efficient and affordable to live in.”

And it’s very possible, given the current public and media-fuelled furore about spiralling energy prices, that the energy efficiency measures built into the house will be the key that’s needed to unlock further sustainability specifications within the house building sector.

The house incorporates a range of energy and water saving features and renewable energy infrastructure to maximise efficiencies including: air source heat pump, heat recovery ventilation system, photovoltaic roof panels, a wood pellet stove and grey water recycling system. The insulation used is made from recycled glass and plastic and, importantly, can itself be recycled once the house is deconstructed in three years time.

Built to show planners and builders that sustainable doesn’t equal expensive nor inferior quality, the house incorporates a range of recycled products including kitchen work surfaces manufactured from recycled coffee cups, recycled paint, bar stools made from reclaimed wood, a staircase from reclaimed oak and steel and reclaimed carpet tiles.

With much of the £200,000 house built off-site in pods, construction waste was dramatically reduced, showing a means of reducing waste sent to landfill and also developer costs. If used as the blueprint for part of a multi-unit development, the construction costs would be significantly reduced. 

For those in the construction industry seeking sustainability inspiration there are many other examples to turn to, with The Crystal in London providing inspiration for commercial architects, planners and developers. Billed as “one of the most sustainable buildings in the world”, it was the first to achieve both the BREEAM Outstanding and LEED Platinum status.

At the core of The Crystal is the Siemens energy management system used to analyse environmental data and control all electrical and mechanical systems. The building features an outdoor weather station which provides information to supplement that provided by more than 3,500 data points located around the structure. This is then connected to and provides intelligence for core functions such as:

  • Heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems
  • Lighting controls
  • Ground source heat pumps
  • Solar thermal hot water system
  • Black and rainwater systems
  • Photovoltaic system

When it comes to energy efficiency, The Crystal is a 100 per cent electric building, with around 20 per cent of the energy generated by 1,580m2 of solar photovoltaic panels covering two thirds of the roof. Ground source heat pumps supply almost all of the building’s heating and most of its cooling too. The building incorporates 17km of pipe, reaching up to 150m deep into the ground and, by using this 100 per cent natural heat source, has a built-in no-cost heating solution – and so never receives a heating bill despite its size and multiple uses and occupancies.

Similar attention has been paid to water efficiency and use; rainwater is collected directly from the roof and stored in an underground tank prior to treatment; blackwater receives the highest level of treatment and once recycled is used for irrigation and toilet flushing across the site.

Looking further afield, this time to the Netherlands, the Venco Campus, in Eersel has also recently received a BREEAM-NL Outstanding certificate which gives it sustainability elite status. Built to resemble the shape of a large egg, representing the poultry sector in which the Vencomatic Group operates, the building doesn’t only look good, it provides a flexible space and has been built with an energy neutral construction.

A little closer to home, but yet to be completed, is The Enterprise Centre at the University of East Anglia. Due to open in January 2015, it is the first commercial building to be designed to achieve both Passivhaus and BREEAM Outstanding certifications. Designed by Architype and BDP, as well as Churchman Landscape Architects, the building is said to: “set radical new standards in terms of embodied energy and use of materials from renewable sources”. Perhaps the most interesting and innovative feature will be the prefabricated Norfolk straw and reed cladding panels.

2015 Scottish building standards

The new Scottish building standards announced by Minister for Planning Derek Mackay will come into effect from October 2015. The standards will improve the energy efficiency of buildings, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by:

  • around 21% for new homes (compared to the current levels)
  • around 43% for new non-domestic buildings.

The Scottish Government consulted on proposed changes to building standards earlier in 2013 and also considered advice from the Sullivan Report expert panel. The new standards are said to provide a balance between taking forward climate change objectives and supporting the construction industry.

More information:

Scottish Resource Efficient House:

The Crystal:

Passivhaus Trust:


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