The building industry, and house builders in particular, have been considering this question for some time and generally their answers are; “They aren’t!” and “No!” We disagree: “It’s actually quite simple: a zero carbon building is one that is designed to be highly energy efficient in its fabric, services and appliances: Then any residual energy demand should come from renewable energy sources. The zero-carbon target needs a fundamental change in mindset; it provides a certainty and clarity of the ambition for investors and innovators in the construction industry.
On a recent project, a planning condition was to demonstrate a 10% reduction in Carbon emissions for the development. By thinking outside the box, reductions of over 25% were achieved: An incredible achievement given that electricity was the only fuel available on the site!”
While consumers are becoming more aware and extremely interested in ‘green’ issues, the construction industry has some reluctance and has only seemed willing to change a little bit at a time. Especially with new buildings, builders and developers remain understandably cost conscious in order to remain competitive. There is an uncomfortable tension between the two considerations that are difficult to balance.
The construction industry has been stuck in a cycle of incremental improvements – doing what it has always done, just a little bit better each time. What is needed now is a fundamental break from the past. There is currently a disconnect between the energy efficiency ambitions of building projects and the scale of the real challenge that needs addressing to hit zero-carbon targets.
It is expensive to include renewable technology.
Today, specifying renewable technology will increase the cost of a building project. But, as with all other technology and innovation, as demand grows, production will increase and the price will fall. What is needed is for Government procurement to take the lead; if Government funded bodies like the education sector, local government and social housing groups can create a large demand, production would be scaled up. Triple glazing is a good example, in Germany increased demand and production has seen the price drop to that of double glazing.
It will also become increasingly important to consider offsetting any increased building costs with reduced long term energy costs for the occupant. We don’t need to try to sell people green lifestyles or make them eco-warriors. Sustainable buildings should be designed to be appealing, gentler on our pockets in terms of running costs, gentler on our health in terms of improved internal environment and as well as being much more gentle on the planet; a win-win-win.