Grand Designs for Low Carbon Buildings

10 January 2008

Is the building you live or work in a stinking, carbon-emitting eyesore? You probably think not, but appearances can be deceptive. Many of the UK’s buildings waste enormous amounts of energy – it is estimated that nearly 30% of Britain’s carbon emissions come from buildings. New construction can be very eco-friendly, but unfortunately many of our buildings are very old and leak energy all over the place, wasting money and adding unnecessary carbon to the atmosphere.
London has an eco-initiative – No.1 Lower Carbon Drive, a showhouse which is touring the capital showing people options for reducing their carbon footprint. It has a wide variety of different ways that people can green their lives, from solar panels on the roof, to water saving showers, and a wormery in the back garden. An interesting feature is an interactive display showing the importance of the correct level of ventilation. Other features of the house are energy-efficient appliances and excellent insulation.

If you are creating a new building, then it is relatively straightforward to build into the design ecological features. The Environmental Resource Centre of the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside uses a plethora of ways to reduce its eco-footprint: natural ventilation systems that also maximise natural light, solar panels, and efficient under-floor heating, amongst others. The Centre is in a reclaimed brownfield site in Bolton and the children who visit it will learn about conservation in a haven for wildlife in the midst of a predominantly urban environment. Roof and carpet tiles were recycled and the cladding is Western Red Cedar from sustainable forests. The land was once a petrol station, and it is fitting that the site has moved away from its dependency on fossil fuels in more ways than one.

This is all well and good, but what about the vast tract of housing stock was designed in a previous era and is old, draughty and leaks energy like a sieve? Russell Smith’s your man there. He is an engineer who wanted to get into ecological design. With either an excess of bravery or foolhardiness, he deliberately chose to renovate a 19th century house in Carshalton, Surrey which had by ecological standards, almost nothing going for it at all: not south-facing for maximum sunlight, solid walls so there could be no cavity-wall insulation, and with all the other flaws of a house of its age. This made it a perfect test-bed to try out a variety of techniques. Each room is different in its ecological features, with a variety of different insulation materials, solar thermal panels on the roof, and underfloor heating. The only extra feature is monitoring equipment so that Russell can check how successful the implementation has been. The reduction in carbon emissions has been a staggering 70%.

During the Open House weekend of 15th – 16th September 2007 Russell was deluged with visitors who wanted to see how to transform their own homes. He has now got four other eco-renovation projects on the go, and has also been appointed as a consultant to various councils, who have a huge amount of energy inefficient housing stock on their hands which needs to be brought up to modern standards.

The Carbon Managers Ltd - The Green Building - Beckington - Bath - BA11 6TE
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