The British Code For Sustainable Homes Construction Essay

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Sustainability has taken many forms since the beginning of human history; however more emphasis has been placed on it since the 1980s following the United Nations call to conserve Earth's resources. With this growing global attention a number of world summits were held including the Rio de Janeiro Earth summit and Kyoto conference. Consequently, sustainable architecture started to attract government and multi-agency attention as a potential contribution to conserving the Earth's non-renewable resources.

The British Code for Sustainable Homes (CSH) was first introduced in 2007 as a discretionary national standard developed as a step towards achieving sustainable building practice for new homes. A number of government institutions were consulted during the process of preparing CSH including British Research Establishment (BRE), Construction Industry Research and Information Association (CIRIA) and Senior Steering Groups consisting of Government, industry and NGO representatives.

The main objective of the CSH is to achieve sustainable home building while driving continuous improvement and greater innovation in the building industry.

Sustainable architecture

The language of sustainability emerged from forestry practices in the 18th and 19th century Europe, when foresters recognised the need to replace the harvested timber to maintain the woodland (Davoudi and Layard, 2001). After the industrial revolution, man's capability to inflict harm to the environment rose to an unprecedented level (Jardins, 2001). At that time Lethaby reported that two processes have changed the surface of the Earth: agriculture and architecture (Lethaby, 1912). And in the recent years, the building industry is considered the least sustainable industry as it consumes approximately fifty percent of the Earth's non-renewable resources (Edwards and Hyett, 2001).

This includes one quarter of the world's wood harvest, one sixth of the Earth's fresh water supplies (Jenks and Burgess, 2000) and forty percent of the energy use in most countries (World Business Council for Sustainable Development, 2006: 7). A study found that fifths of the energy consumption of buildings occurs in the operational phase1.

Sustainable architecture has developed in response to environmental concerns. Perhaps the most significant event that marked this new interest in conserving the Earth's resources and its healthy condition is the Brundtland Commission report known as Our Common Future in 1987 which included the well known definition of sustainable development as: Development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (Brundtland, 1987: 47).

Adams (2009: 3) cited that as much as the definition of sustainable development is attractive, it is better as a slogan rather than a basis for a theory. This does not necessarily mean that sustainability did not exist through human history. In fact, old monuments such as Durham Cathedral and Escombe church (UK), parts of old Cairo wall and Omayyad Mosque (Damascus) speak of ancient sustainable building practices by recycling building materials.

Sustainable architecture places consideration on major issues of concern including achieving sustainable energy, using sustainable building materials in construction, efficient waste management, structures and materials re-use and social sustainability in architecture. The climate surrounding the building being designed is considered the most important element in sustainable architecture. It is almost impossible to design a house that is energy efficient without knowing the temperature, solar radiation, wind velocity, precipitation, etc. Although the aims of sustainable architecture are to maintain a good healthy environment and sustain the Earth's resources, some critics point at practical drawbacks while achieving it. Sometimes sustainable building construction is accused of causing environmental damage instead of conserving the environment since it involves the transformation of natural building materials permanently.

The building materials are moved from their natural locations to the factories in which they are completely changed in accordance to the building materials requirements. This process yields three consequences: conserving, wasting or depleting non renewable Earth's resources, polluting the environment. with unrecyclable buildings wastes at the end of buildings' life cycles and/or take a long time to disintegrate back to a natural substance. Also, because some sustainable construction practices are costly such as using skilled labour, many building firms rely on machinery in the building process which might not really look sustainable (Eisenberg, 2002: 223).

Knox reported that badly designed buildings inflict unnecessarily high demands on the environment and are a poor legacy for future occupants and future generations, due to excessive running and maintenance costs and dwindling value over time. If they are demolished or overhauled prematurely they represent a wasteful use of capital, human resources and embodied energy and water. He adds that designers could be very selective in reducing waste and pollution as most important decisions reducing the impact of a building are taken at its earliest stages of conception and design. At present, many of these are of limited vision: there is a brief, location, selection of the design team, clarification of the client or user requirements, building management, future operational plans, and design approach.

Unfortunately, the tendency has been for the architect to design a prestigious and iconic piece where the engineer is then expected to service it. As a consequence, the building rarely lives up to the design intentions but instead, reflects the fee structure of the mechanical electrical engineer, generally based on percentage of equipment. Imperfect buildings result from poor communication between the disciplines and their deferring priorities (Knox, 2005).

Code of Sustainable Home (CSH)

The British government's ambition for the Code for Sustainable Home (CSH) is to make it the single national standard for the design and construction of sustainable homes, so that it drives improvements in home building practice in the UK. The code was not developed in a vacuum, but in fact was based on official documents, and mainly Eco Homes (Yates et al., 2004).

The Code for Sustainable Homes is actually a rewrite of an earlier document called EcoHomes, which has been around for several years. Both EcoHomes and the CSH have been prepared by the Building Research Establishment (the BRE), our premier construction research organisation. What these documents set out to do is to assess just how ecofriendly a particular house or development actually is. Every aspect of the project is assessed and given a score, and these various scores are then added together and this gives rise to a rating. Energy efficiency naturally features highly, but so does water use, use of materials, waste management, ecological footprint and various other matters. What makes the CSH different is that a timetable is included with it which suggests that each and every new home built in England shall meet certain standards by specific dates. The Code implementation is managed by the BRE4. The documents from which the code was derived were also based on extensive research and experience.

The Code implementation is managed by the BRE4. The documents from which the code was derived were also based on extensive research and experience. The code became legally binding in May 2008. New amendments were made in the CSH based on feedback received from Code for Sustainable Home assessors, developers and wider industry stakeholders, and new version published in October 2008. 2 The Code service providers offer a range of services including assessor training, registration and monitoring, quality assurance of assessments, certification, investigation and resolution of complaints, and maintenance of records (BRE Global, 2007).

The Code Assessments are carried out in two stages:

1- Design Stage (DS) when the building is at a design phase prior to construction.

2- Post Construction Stage (PCS) at the end of the construction phase in which evidence is shown of realising all the information provided in the design stage such as the use of energy efficient products or certain building materials, etc.

The assessment is based on nine categories of sustainable design that include the following:

1- Energy and CO2

2- Water

3- Materials

4- Surface Water Run-off

5- Waste

6- Pollution

7- Health and Well-being

8- Management

9- Ecology

Each of the nine categories is further subdivided into smaller elements and is ranked from one to six according to efficiency. The six levels of efficiency actually present indicators of the levels of energy efficiency and carbon dioxide emissions standards.

For example, Category 1 is further subdivided into the following subcategories: Energy and CO2 emissions:

Dwelling emission rate (M)

Building fabric

Internal lighting

Drying space

Energy labelled white goods

External lighting

Low or zero carbon (LZC) technologies

Cycle storage

Home office

Each of the subcategories above is allocated marks from one to six depending on the procedures taken during the design and construction stages. The Final Certificate for achieving targets of Code for Sustainable Homes illustrates the rating from level 1 to level 6 at the end of the two stages. Every given level for each category includes reason behind giving such rating, see Figure (2). Each category also holds a different weighing factor depending on how important it is considered.

Table 1 below illustrates that each category carries a different weighting. For example as energy and CO2 emissions are presumed the most important contributors in achieving sustainability at a global scale, they are placed in Category 1 and given the maximum percentage 36.4%. Because the UK does not actually address the surface water run-off problem, this category is allocated a minimum percentage 2.2, whilst ecology is given 12% to help conserve both the fauna and flora of the UK at a time so many living species are becoming endangered.