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The word sustainability as been pushed upon us for the past two decades, often without any real definition and for alternative reasons than the good of the planet, in recent years marketing experts have used it as a spin to sell products and the word sustainability is a favourite to include in the mission statement of any construction company. This is a very interesting point as many other industries don't feel the need to include sustainability in their mission statement but are more likely to offer an insight into their fundamental role in the market place, this would suggest construction companies are aware of the huge environmental burden they impose and have realised things need to change.
A major problem with construction lies within the amount on raw materials required in order to fulfil the need of the growing population, and the emissions produced making these materials fit for purpose. For example the world production of hydraulic cement has increased from 300 million tonnes in 1960 to around 3 billion tonnes in 2010, this is very similar for other raw materials in fact the construction industry uses more raw materials than all other industries put together i.e. manufacturing, automotive ETC.
By the very definition of sustainability then whatever we claim to be sustainable must last way beyond our lifetime, in fact should last forever. Therefore if we intend to produce sustainable buildings and move towards Zero carbon construction, then the rate construction consumes raw materials and the way these materials are put to use needs addressing.
Barriers in place, can it be done:
With the construction industry being of such financial importance to the UK around 8% of the GDP, this is similar worldwide. The question of priority is evident, as throughout the years we have developed quick and cheap methods of construction buildings. So even if profit making organisations were able to encapsulate sustainable construction would they be willing to decrease the already very tight profit margins or as clients would we pay a premium to buy or rent sustainable offices, hotels and as tax payers shell out more for sustainable hospitals ETC? Probably not, and given the current economical climate this is more evident than ever. Therefore if the move towards sustainable construction is made then this must go hand in hand being financially economical in choosing the most sustainable methods possible.
It can be done!
Case studies such as G. Park Blue Planet highlight the fact it is possible to achieve sustainable construction, G. Park Blue Planet at Chatterley Valley, is the first development in the world to be awarded the new BREEAM outstanding award. The sustainability credentials that have led to this prestigious award include:
Thermally efficient buildings with air tightness and thermal insulation;
Kinetic plates which capture energy every time a vehicle enters or leaves the site;
Efficient systems for further building energy reduction, utilising cutting-edge lighting, maximum use of natural light, under floor heating and an energy panel wall;
The latest solar cell technology implanted into special roof lights which eliminate night time light pollution;
The majority of materials used in the building being either A or A+ rated in BRE Globals' Green Guide to Specification;
The development targets zero waste send to landfill.
Figure G. Park Blue Planet
A helping hand:
The UK government have set targets for all new Non domestic buildings to be Zero carbon by 2019 this may seem to be highly ambitious target, so how can this be achieved? Though guidance from organisations such as BREEAM whom have come up with systems to determine how environmentally friendly a building maybe by categorising different sections and awarding points depending on how efficient each section maybe, these scores are totalled up to give an overall rating.
Health and Welfare
This ratings System along with changes in standards help give construction companies clear objectives and guidelines to aim for. I.e. Building regulations Part L 2010 call for a 25% overall improvement in all new Non-domestic builds in the most cost effective manner, improving on such things as air tightness, cavity walls, and thermal bridging ETC,
Comparison of U-values
These are all steps in the direction of Sustainable building and case study G. Park Blue Planet is proof that zero carbon is achievable as long as the correct building methods and materials are used.
Best way forward:
Principles for low energy, low carbon buildings: Applying the following principles over the lifetime of a building contributes to reducing energy use and residual carbon emissions reduce energy demand by building the highest-quality fabric; meet end-use demand using efficient systems; supply energy from decentralised 'low and zero carbon' energy sources; and enable ongoing management of energy demand and on-site systems, including those that are building-integrated.
The use of green building materials and products represents one important strategy in the design of a building.
In order to for a material to be classed as a green material it should offer;
Resource efficiency, Recycled Content, Natural, plentiful or renewable, locally available, durable, resource efficient manufacturing process, salvaged, refurbished, or remanufactured, reusable or recyclable, recycled or recyclable product packaging;
Indoor Air Quality: Low or non-toxic, minimal chemical emissions, Low-VOC assembly, moisture resistant, healthfully maintained, systems or equipment;
Energy Efficiency: Materials, components, and systems that help reduce energy consumption in buildings and facilities;
Water Conservation: Products and systems that help reduce water consumption in buildings and conserve water in landscaped areas.
Green building materials offer specific benefits to the building owner and building occupants.
Reduced maintenance/replacement costs over the life of the building.
Improved occupant health and productivity;
Lower costs associated with changing space configurations;
Greater design flexibility.
Solar water heating
Well established, for small scale can provide 60% of heating requirements builds and cost effective.
Not cost effective in commercial buildings, need back up supply i.e. gas or electric
Very low maintenance, clean silent and renewable local energy source, good ascetics, can be constructed to any size for energy requirement.
Solar power is a variable energy source, very costly to produce, harmful toxins used in production.
Carbon neutral fuel , potential cost savings against carbon fuel, incentive for the sustainable management of local woodland, opportunity for other buildings to follow suit through the establishment of a reliable supply chain.
Need for additional facilities such as the fuel store and fuel transfer machinery; the need for regular fuel deliveries via lorry.
Ground source heat pumps
Low maintenance, can provide heating in winter and cooling in summer, highly efficient (450%), very low co2 emissions, use in conjunction with other LZC tech.
Large amount of land required to accommodate coils, high capital and insulation cost, best suited for under floor heating so requires large floor space.
Biomass CHP large sites
Provides both heating and electric, highly efficiently, work on renewable fuel.
Only cost effective in large scale builds, produce far more heat than electricity.
Cheaper than biomass alterative, captures waste heat reducing carbon emissions.
Uses carbon fuel alongside renewable.
Ability to power large scale developments, highly efficient on large scale builds, overproduce and store energy within the grid, renewable energy source.
Highly variable output therefore needs to be attached to the grid, only cost effective in large builds, difficult to attain planning permission
The compatibility of the technologies making up the zero carbon strategy must be carefully considered case by case. Developing the zero carbon strategy will be an iterative process repeated at successive development stages, alongside and informing other planning and design activities. If the type of LZC technology of the material chosen for a particular building varies greatly depending on the use and size of the building, the one constant is we require buildings to meet the standards set in building regulations part L, as only buildings with improved air tightness. U-values ETC have any chance of utilizing LZC technologies in order to achieve sustainable buildings.
In choosing individual LZC the following must be considered:
Application - technology type, scale and end-uses served.
Potential CO2 savings.
Capital costs (including any associated infrastructure/civil works).
Technical considerations and uncertainties.
Impact on energy bills.
In order to achieve sustainable construction we must fully embrace the idea of sustainability and understand the reasons why we are aiming for a carbon zero future. With this in mind the targets set by the government should be seen as vehicle to hand in hand with organisations such as BREEAM to help guide and give advice on the best way to reach the end goal. Not just as a hindrance that needs to be satisfied (using any type of LZC technology however inefficient). We need to ensure that when we construct our buildings best practices are always used to ensure high standards, improving on U-values and thermal bridging ETC. Designers and personnel who are involved in construction need to fully understand sustainable building in order to ensure the correct LZC is chosen at each point throughout any job, this needs to be the best option for the best price with the future of the building also considered.