Ed Milibands recent announcement of the UK Low Carbon Transition Plan, plotting how we can achieve a reduction of 34% in CO2 emissions by 2020 compared with 1990 levels, is effecting a real step change in attitude towards building performance by forcing rapid and exacting changes in current construction practice.
Creating a framework within which these ambitious targets can be achieved, proposed amendments to Part L2A (Conservation of Fuel and Power) of the Building Regulations call for the introduction of improved energy efficiency standards for new non-domestic buildings with a 25% reduction in the maximum emissions from new buildings from October 2010.
With consultation on these proposals already underway and likely to be enforced by 2010, the industry is being set clear objectives that will enable the Government to realise its vision of achieving a low carbon economy. However, when you consider this is in relation to the performance of the UKs existing building stock, which accounts for 45% of total CO2 emissions, the question remains, how do we set about making these energy efficiency targets a reality?
Nearly half of all energy consumption is related to the operational energy requirements of a building, and the directives being put in place by Government understandably put emphasis on improving the energy efficiency of buildings as a means of reducing CO2 emissions.
For many years the industry has therefore focused on increasing the thickness of wall and roof insulation in a bid to reduce CO2 emissions. However, improving u-values to 0.15/0.25 provides only 5% reduction in energy consumption, whilst improving air-tightness levels to 3m3/hr/m2 provides a 17% reduction in energy consumption.
In this context, the building envelope by achieving high levels of air-tightness that contributes towards significantly improving the thermal efficiency makes a major contribution towards reducing energy usage and associated CO2 emissions. However, improved air-tightness is achieved without significant changes to specification merely through attention to detail in the construction of the building so the additional cost is minimal compared with other means of significantly reducing the CO2 emissions.
In light of ever-increasing energy costs these benefits stack up economically as well as environmentally. Indeed a recent McGraw-Hill study revealed that thermally efficient buildings command three per cent higher rental rates and an average increase of 7.5% in building value. Alongside this, they deliver 3.5% higher occupancy rates and ultimately improve return on investment by an average of 6.6%.
Whether in context of a refurbishment or new build project, optimisation of the building envelope has a crucial role to play in aiding delivery of Government targets. Given the current economic climate a back to basics mantra focusing on the application of practical solutions and attention to detail during the construction phase is key to improving a buildings operational lifetime performance and rudimentary to supporting the move towards a low carbon economy.