Net Zero architecture is transforming the construction industry, here’s how you can make the most of it
From commercial spaces, public buildings, and more, the built environment is responsible for approximately 25% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. A figure which reaches 38% when accounting for total global carbon emissions as a whole. In the face of growing concerns surrounding climate change; individuals, companies, and governing bodies alike have made commitments to half global emissions by the end of the decade, eliminating them in their entirety by 2050.
However, despite these promising intentions, a change of this magnitude still requires a significant turning point in how the construction industry as a whole operates. The ability to affect this change is still firmly in the hands of construction businesses, architects, and contractors alike. Whilst the sector is still a long way from achieving these goals, it does look to be moving in the right direction. From minimising wastage, to green roofing and innovative design features, there is no shortage of solutions that are working towards a Net Zero future.
What is Net Zero architecture?
To be classed as Net Zero, a building has to be able to counterbalance any emissions produced throughout its construction. Not only does this involve minimising the production of carbon dioxide throughout the construction phase of the building itself, but also balancing any excess emissions with new and innovative designs and sustainable technologies. For a building to be truly Net Zero, it has to be embodied over the entire lifetime of the building, not just solely throughout the construction phase.
How to help our buildings reach Net Zero.
Efficient Energy Usage
Regardless of what sustainability related features you’re intending to incorporate into the design of your new building project, the first point of call should always be to ensure the building is already running at optimal efficiency. With the existing design minimising unnecessary energy usage before you consider investing in a variety of offsetting solutions. In many cases, one of the most effective ways of doing so is by updating insulation within the walls, roof, and floors of a building. This enables the property to better retain heat, not only keeping it warm throughout the winter, but cool during the warmer months of the year. Thus, reducing the need for typically non-renewably powered heaters, fans and air conditioners.
Throughout the design and construction phases of a new building, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the latest Net Zero techniques and technologies. But, if you’re to ensure they are operating at the greatest efficiency, then the orientation of the building is a key factor in minimising excess energy usage. Buildings designed with solar panels in mind, for example; are at their optimum efficiency when southwards facing. Also, you’re going to want to consider factors such as conserving this energy by taking advantage of shade from other buildings, trees, and other natural features, as well as optimising natural lighting. With lighting alone estimated to account for between 17% and 20% of a property’s total energy consumption, optimal orientation within the design stage is a great first step towards reaching Net Zero.
Renewable Energy Sources
Once you’ve ensured energy efficiency has been maximised, additional renewable energy technologies can then be incorporated into the design of the building. Solar energy, for example; is among the most common renewable energy sources across the UK. Giving a potential saving of up to a tonne of carbon each year. These panels don’t require direct sunlight to convert energy into electricity, so it’s no wonder why they're such a popular solution within the UK.
With approximately 85% of pre-existing UK homes currently being heated by gas, targeting carbon neutrality within this area looks to be one of the more challenging aspects necessary for transitioning towards a Net Zero economy. Also, with the installation of gas boilers into new homes banned from 2025 onwards, incorporating low-carbon heating sources such as geothermally powered Ground Source Heat Pumps (GSHP’s) well in advance, will not only have a significant impact on reducing your carbon emissions, but also save you a considerable amount on your heating bills along the way.
Another increasingly popular source of renewable heating is biomass. This is where wood, plants, and other organic matter is burned in a stove to heat a single room, or connected to central heating and hot water systems to fuel all aspects of the building’s heating requirements. Whilst the burning of wood still produces carbon, the amount emitted is the same or lower than what is absorbed from the atmosphere when the tree was going; as long as new trees are planted in their place, the process is entirely sustainable.
A green roof, often known as a living roof, is the roof of a building which is either partially, or entirely covered by a layer of vegetation. These architectural features filter carbon dioxide in the air, as well as a small quantity of carbon dioxide produced from the building through photosynthesis, converting it into oxygen and therefore gradually purifying the air. As plants absorb a significant portion of sunlight through chlorophyll, green roofs also provide an additional barrier of heat retention, and against heat loss.
This creates a cooler climate in the immediate vicinity of the building, which if paired with solar panels, increases the efficiency in which they operate even more. All of which further reduces total energy costs and the strain upon them. For many buildings already striving towards achieving net-zero, this may prove to be the final piece of the puzzle.
How can you benefit beyond solely Net Zero’s environmental implications?
The relationship between carbon emissions and global warming is no secret, nor are the numerous negative impacts they have on our planet. Of course, whilst the primary objective of transitioning towards a net-zero economy is the positive environmental impact it has, doesn’t mean businesses can’t take full advantage of these changes in the meantime.
Predominately, making the most of these benefits comes down to being well prepared for what the next few decades have in store. Especially as national and global bodies are becoming more stringent in their commitments towards achieving Net Zero. Businesses which have already incorporated energy efficiency, renewable power sources, and a number of additional environmentally supportive features into their work, will be spared the time and costs that would otherwise be imposed upon them through stricter legislation. All whilst commanding a higher value for the building itself due to its environmentally considerate features.
As we continue to strive towards a more environmentally conscious planet, early adoption of sustainable practices has the potential to offer a significant competitive advantage both now and within the coming years. The market for green buildings is expected to reach $573.91 billion globally by 2027. Those contractors and businesses already investing in sustainability training, or renewable technology installation will be best placed from the get-go.
Sarah Kauter is Managing Director of Construction PR