Saving the World (one house at a time)

As I write this blog in the balmy heat of our blisteringly boiling Scottish summer, I’m reminded of the importance that good architectural design makes to creating a pleasant temperature controlled office environment. And as I step outside into the sweltering heat I find myself thinking about the role that buildings contribute to global warming…they are one of the biggest contributors, but it doesn’t always have to be this way!

The effect that our projects have on the environment is something I give much thought to; whether it’s the initial concepts stage of a project, the technical selection of materials as the project moves forwards, the CPD reading I’m doing at the moment to understand the role of dreaded CO2 in building projects and how it can be reduced, and how to encourage clients to think smart about the building envelope choices they make and the effect these choices will have on the lifetime running costs as well as the contribution that building will make to global warming.

One project we are especially proud of at the moment is the new build house at Ballogie. It has been designed to be super thermally efficient, with a very high performance building envelope, including up-rated insulation, high performance glazing, careful choice over building orientation and use of renewable technologies including biomass, solar thermal and solar photo-voltaic panels. The initial SAP calculation for the project (all to do with the overall energy consumption/loss within the building and Carbon emissions) was good, but we have recently revised the calculation now we are in receipt of all the detailed information from various suppliers that we needed and we are slightly amazed by the final numbers the revised SAP calculation is showing. If you look at the picture below, you will see that the house is actually carbon negative! This is the first project we have designed where this has happened, and we put it down to the combination of all the energy reducing measures that have been introduced, meaning the house will actually generate more energy than it consumes!

Ballogie SAP certificate front page

So the next question is why aren’t all houses built to this standard? The answer is the usual simple one – capital cost. Our forward thinking client has been prepared to invest money upfront in the design and construction of their new home to ensure that it is low cost to run and maintain, and this has easily added 10% to the overall construction budget.

One major impediment to all households investing in renewable technologies has been the great uncertainty around the way tariffs are structured, applied and guaranteed. These initial tariffs for providing your own electricity and hot water for heating and washing have been slashed in recent years, plus both the UK and Scottish Governments have shown little proper commitment and thought as to how really incentivise householders to invest in their homes and think green where their energy consumption is concerned. A proposal to revise the current building regulations to make them even more focused on energy consumption reduction has been put on hold, with worries that it might stall the faltering house building system even further. As is the norm these days, lack of government funding for schemes is blamed on the recession, yet to me, the whole business of upgrading our existing elderly housing stock and ensuring new housing is built to the highest standards when it comes to energy control seems like the biggest missed opportunity to boost business in the construction industry in my lifetime. Team it up with a VAT cut on works to existing buildings and I suspect the next housing boom would get cracking in no time!

So meantime, it’s coming down to teams of informed clients and their architects, with sufficient cash and conscience to save the world, one house at a time.

If you are interested in understanding more about how we have designed a fantastic house that is kind to mother earth, don’t hesitate to get in touch!