Sustainability

Award Winning Architecture in Hampshire

Architecture Hampshire

Carbon dioxide represents about 81% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, so clearly cutting carbon dioxide emissions is a key target.

In order to try and reverse climate change, the UK Government has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the UK to almost zero by 2050.

In 2019 19% of the UK carbon dioxide emissions came from residential buildings and 18% came from business therefore architecture and building design have a very important role to play in helping to reduce the country’s carbon footprint.

When considering carbon dioxide emissions, it is not enough to just consider the emissions produced while the building’s are in use, from such things as gas boilers, but it is also important to consider the emissions created in the production of the building materials and components and from any emissions created in disposal at the end of a building’s useful life.

We need to design building’s that are sustainable through their whole life cycle. It is a huge challenge to achieve zero carbon through a building’s lifecycle and it is also important to design out other greenhouse gases and other pollutants.

Many normal things will have to change radically over the next few years and things are not helped by the current energy market, where, for example, gas it ten times cheaper than electricity per Kw, driving a strong demand for gas boilers to be fitted into new housing estates, even today.

Understanding all the factors that go into sustainable design is hugely complicated, however architects and architectural technologists are well placed to help clients understand the issues and make the right choices when it comes to designing new buildings, extending and refurbishing existing buildings.

There is a bewildering array of so-called sustainable materials and alternative energy products on the market, such as air, water and ground source heat pumps, photo-voltaics, solar collectors, heat recovery systems, wind and water turbines and so on. Some of these products are very good and some may appear good on the face of it but drill down and they can have a high carbon footprint in the production of the component materials, or they are not recyclable at the end of their service life.

Sorting out the ‘wheat from the chaff’ when it comes to choosing the right materials and components can help save clients money in the long term as well as helping reverse climate change.

Architects and Architectural Technologists are trained to understand sustainability and working in the construction industry, that knowledge accumulates. They are obliged by their Institutions to carry out ‘Continuing Professional Development – CPD’ throughout their careers and sustainability is one of the core modules.

Wood is a good material to examine when looking at the sustainability of a material. Wood is 50% carbon which it takes from the air and soil during it’s lifetime. When timber is processed into building materials the carbon is locked into its structure for it’s remaining service life. If timber is carefully specified in the construction of a building it can be reused or recycled at the end of the building’s life, so wood is a good material when considering lowering a buildings carbon footprint and removing carbon from the environment.

We recently installed 300-year-old oak timber frames into a building project salvaged from a demolished cottage.

It is always important to consider the whole picture when considering sustainability issues. Take bricks as a building material, on the face of it an unsustainable building material when you consider the incredible amount of heat needed to ‘fire’ the bricks, traditionally fired with timber or charcoal, more recently using gas or electricity.

Now consider their longevity, take Hampton Court Palace, built mostly with brickwork over 500 years ago and the bricks are still going strong, so perhaps on balance a more sustainable product over its useful lifespan.

It is important to understand the changing landscape of sustainable products and materials. Traditionally electricity has been produced using coal and gas at a very high carbon cost, however for the first time ever, the UK produced more electricity in 2020 from renewables such a photo-voltaics, wind power, tidal energy and hydro systems than it did from gas and nuclear and this trend is set to increase rapidly going forward.

Whilst electricity is still expensive to use to heat a home at least its production is becoming more sustainable. So how do we take advantage of this sustainable heating system? The trick is to design new buildings, so they don’t need so much power to heat them, by making the external fabric of the building, the roof, walls and ground floor as thermally efficient as possible.

If you can specify building materials that are thermally efficient and sustainable with low or zero carbon credentials, then you are going a long way towards making new buildings sustainable. This is known as the ‘passive principle’ and its widespread adoption is beginning to have a beneficial impact. Applying similar principles to extending, altering or refurbishing existing buildings is complex but still achievable with the right understanding and experience.

The directors and staff at Axis Architecture have decades of experience in designing and specifying sustainable and energy efficient buildings and navigating the complexities of balancing initial costs of materials and components against running costs, against lifetime costs and against environmental costs and benefits.