Building on research into reducing carbon emissions

Integer pilot projects around the UK include features such as passive ventilation, photo-voltaics, solar hot water and communal boiler systems — in homes that do not require lifestyle changes.
ALISON NICHOLL discusses the opportunities and challenges of implementing carbon-efficient technologies. Implementing radical change in building projects is difficult. The construction industry is complex, with many different stakeholders and a high level of structural inertia. To engineer change it is necessary to involve as many stakeholders as possible in win–win, low-risk programmes of applied innovation. Carbon reduction is currently headline news. Meeting energy requirements using sustainable sources and reducing carbon emissions is forcing us to look at ways of reducing the carbon footprint of buildings. Many of the proposed solutions have been around for many years. Landmark environmental buildings have implemented solutions such as wind-power generation, photo-voltaics, intelligent building-management systems and solar water heating. These solutions are making their way into mainstream practice at a variable and unpredictable rate. They have often been regarded as somewhat extreme and too expensive for widespread implementation. However, a number of forces are combining to force building projects to look seriously at ways to reduce carbon emissions. These include changes to the Building Regulations, increasing cost of energy produced using fossil fuels and, increasingly, planners are including sustainability criteria as a condition to gaining planning consent. As low-carbon technologies are more widely used, how can we ensure they are successfully implemented? How can we ensure that these solutions are used most effectively to deliver their full benefits? Inspired by the success of the Integer Millennium House, the Integer partners completed five pilot projects around the UK. Carbon-saving measures on these pilot projects included high levels of insulation, optimum orientation of buildings to take full advantage of passive solar heating, communal boiler systems, solar hot water and in one case photo-voltaics. These homes were designed to facilitate more environmentally friendly lifestyles, although as one resident put it, ‘The beauty of the Integer home is that no lifestyle changes are required.’ Integer has evaluated these projects to establish what worked and what did not work and why some solutions worked and others did not. The evaluation found that Integer intelligent and green homes were saving about a third of hot-water and space-heating costs compared with a standard new-build property. Indeed, some one-bedroom flats had gas bills of just £55 per annum. Based on this evaluation, Integer has developed a set of guidelines for the successful implementation of innovative solutions. Often the key to success is not related to the solution itself but to the process by which it is implemented. 1. Establish early shared ownership between the development team and the operations team. For successful innovation to take place, stakeholders’ concerns need to be identified and addressed. For example, if the maintenance team feel its concerns have been ignored, it will not take ownership of the project, and this will be reflected in the way the project is maintained. That lack of ownership will transfer across to end-users, who may feel that the solutions are not successful. 2. Align requirement specifications with budgets. Carbon-saving technologies are often viewed in terms of high-profile, high-cost solutions. People look for high profile ‘badges of sustainability’ such as photo-voltaics and wind turbines. Once these solutions are costed in terms of the amount of carbon they save, they can prove to be very expensive — which often leads to the conclusion that sustainability is too expensive. However, low-cost, simple solutions are available that can provide most of the benefits for a fraction of the cost. Solar hot water can provide a more cost-effective solution to reducing carbon emissions than photo-voltaics. In fact, the cheapest solution is to get the orientation on the site correct — an invisible solution that provides significant benefits. 3. Align innovative solutions to performance specifications. Reducing carbon emissions does not mean that every carbon-saving solution possible should be introduced into a project. Design teams must first consider what they are trying to achieve in terms of carbon reduction, what features will help them achieve their objectives and what options are available within budget. 4. Train and educate occupants, staff, management and other professionals. Involving end-users in key decisions, and training them in how to use innovative features enables them to use their buildings most effectively. Training facilities and maintenance staff is a key issue; if they are unfamiliar with the innovative solutions they cannot effectively deal with end-users’ concerns and queries. 5. Manage expectations. Levels of occupant satisfaction are closely related to expectations. There is little point telling occupants they will have a zero-energy development if that will not be the case. Even if they experience significant reductions in energy consumption and costs, occupants will be disappointed if they expected to receive far more. The extent to which expectations and stakeholder involvements are managed is a key determinant in the perceived success of a project. 6. Carefully source products, systems and support. The design team should carefully consider the issue of sourcing replacement parts and service and maintenance support for the specialist products and system. This will have a significant impact on the long-term viability of innovative solutions. 7. Select contractual strategies that support partnership and innovation. All too often contractual procedures and procurement strategies prevent the implementation of carbon-reduction strategies. Products and systems are often included or excluded on the basis of capital cost rather on the basis of whole-life value. This is slowly changing; contractual strategies such as PFI are forcing developers to take whole-life costing into account when specifying buildings. 8. Share success, acknowledge and address problems. A key requirement for success is shared ownership of projects. This is based on open and honest sharing of both success and failure between all stakeholders. 9. Plan and manage for success. There is a tendency in the construction industry to anticipate and plan for failure rather than plan to succeed. This can stifle innovation and change, preventing the implementation of innovative carbon-reduction strategies. Integer is the UK’s leading action-research network committed to delivering the benefits of step-change innovation in housing and the built environment. See for more details or call 01923 665955. I&I Ltd is technology consultant and programme manages for the Integer action-research programme, working with stakeholders to develop and implement effective carbon reduction strategies. See the web site below for more details or call 01923 665950. Alison Nicholl is with I&I Ltd, Building 9, Bucknalls Lane, Garston, Watford WD25 9XX. Key conclusions from the carbon reduction strategies from the Integer pilot projects.
• Passive-solar-design considerations such as small north-facing windows and southern aspect to living areas are simple and cost-effective ways to reduce the heating load. • Community heating systems eliminate the problems associated with gaining access to individual properties for maintenance. • Intelligent controls enable end-users to control heating of their individual properties. • Solar hot water heating has proved popular with both residents and management companies as it is high-yield, low-cost, simple to maintain and has performed well. • The installation of photo-voltaic panels would not have been cost effective without grant support from the DTI. Solar hot water proved much more cost effective.
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