REUTERS | Navesh Chitrakar

Low carbon domestic refurbishment

We all know that we need to improve energy use in new houses and buildings, so why should we care about existing housing stock? On 10 June, the Construction Products Association (CPA) published An Introduction to Low Carbon Domestic Refurbishment, a guide that answers that question and might even provide some inspiration for the wider construction industry.

Why are houses and flats so important?

The government has committed the UK to reducing carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. Clearly, the construction industry will play a major role in achieving that target. The government has recognised this with a host of measures. For example, from 2016, all new dwellings will have to be zero carbon.

However, it is a mistake to think that improving energy efficiency in new buildings alone will enable us to reach the 80% target. 27% of our CO2 emissions are associated with energy use in houses and over 80% of existing dwellings will still be occupied in 40 years time. In fact, less than 1% of housing stock is being replaced annually. Against this background, it is easy to understand the importance of reducing CO2 emissions from energy use in existing homes. The CPA’s new guide addresses this problem.

Who should read the guide?

The guide is written so that it can be understood by a well-informed homeowner. While starting from that position, its intended readership is wide, including:

  • Builders.
  • Professional consultants (architects, surveyors and energy consultants).
  • Regulators.
  • Politicians.

While the guide has a wide scope, its format is straightforward. It is is divided into three sections:

  • Section 1, on what needs to be done before work begins.
  • Section 2, which provides information on each of the major elements of a dwelling (walls, windows, heating and so on).
  • Section 3, which contains a series of case studies illustrating the different scales of work that can be carried on.

Construction practitioners may find this this combination of a simple style and wide scope attractive, especially given the limitations of some other publications on energy efficiency, which either assume some level of technical knowledge (making them inaccessible to many lawyers) or simply avoid complicated issues (making them uninformative).

Wider suggestions for the construction industry

Despite its focus on refurbishing existing dwellings, some of the guide’s ideas may be useful for the industry. For example, its uses two energy standards when assessing the energy efficiency of a home:

  • A current “best practice” standard (slightly higher that the current Building Regulations, but achievable using readily available materials).
  • An “advanced” or “low carbon” standard (for those who want to reduce CO2 reductions by 60% or more and are willing to bear the extra expense of doing so).

These two standards may be worth considering in other fields of construction, especially as there is no agreed industry-wide standard at the moment (even the term “zero carbon” is yet to be defined). Likewise, the guide’s recommended three-stage approach to refurbishment may be of wider application. Put simply, the three stages are:

  • Make quick fixes (that is, take measures that are easy and inexpensive).
  • Exploit and preserve opportunities (carry out work where the opportunity arises as part of the refurbishment and take measures that make future work easier).
  • Implement major changes (meeting national CO2 emissions targets will require major work, so carry it out when you can, for example, before moving into a dwelling).

It is easy to see how this rule of thumb could be applied to commercial property, or even industrial facilities.

Useful reading for all construction practitioners

With the growing focus on energy efficiency, construction practitioners could do worse than looking at the CPA’s guide. There are few documents that explain energy efficiency issues so clearly and still manage to propose stimulating ideas.

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