CRA & Sustainability
Healthy, airy, well insulated environments are as important as the spaces created.
My first job in architecture was working for "Gaia Scotland" in Aberfeldy in my university holidays back in 1991. http://gaiagroup.org/ is still a group of architects commited to sustainable building design . My work there formed an enduring interest in sustainability, which CRA sees as having an integral role in the art of living well.
Since then, there have been many advances both in building science and in government legislation. Although much of the legislation related to carbon saving in buildings is compulsory through the Building Regulations, CRA is happy to advise on some of the further incentives to save energy in Britain's housing stock.
CRA takes a pragmatic view to sustainable refurbishment, as attempting to achieve “Passivhaus” standards in existing urban housing stock can be both expensive and space hungry. Focus is rather on insulating as well as can be managed within the constraints of the site and budget, with products that are readily available to the small builders that regularly carry out domestic refurbishments and extensions, ventilating the building properly, and making use of controlled natural light using a considered amount of glazing.
The 2008 Climate Change Act required the UK to reduce its carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 against a 1990 baseline, and this has now been ambitiously revised to achieve net zero carbon by 2050. In 2008, shortly after the establishment of my practice and when 'Building a Greener Britain' (2) was written, the average household in the UK produced over 10 tons of carbon dioxide per year from energy use in the home, consumption of food and products and transport . Under the 2008 target this needed to be 8 tons by 2020 and 2 tons by 2050. The Committee on Climate Change has produced this infographic highlighting how we are currently lagging behind in these comittments.
Housing Refurbishment and how it can help
Given that 85% of our existing housing stock is still likely to be standing in 2050 (2), and that this is where CRA's focus lies, the sustainable refurbishment of existing housing is of particular interest to this practice.
Good news is in order since the Government has recently launched it's Green Homes grant system.
Since the collapse of the government’s inefficient “Green Deal” and the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) that ran alongside it collapsed in 2015, this new system has been long awaited by sustainability experts.
The Green Homes Grant Scheme link is a little dry, so I still like this infographic, produced in 2016, which puts figures together in an easily digestible manner:
New Build Housing
"Building a Greener Future" (1) published in 2006, and so still interesting to this practice as a record of where thinking was when this blog was first written, and how far we have or have not come, set out a target that all newly built housing would be zero carbon by 2016. This target was subsequently removed after the change in government in 2010 and has of course been missed by some way. This year (2020) The Green Building Council has produced this report on current thinking regarding net zero:
Sustainable new builds can be achieved through higher levels of insulation, better air tightness and the installation of renewable energy. More stringent systems than the Building Regulations exist and are becoming increasingly common for those looking to build as sustainably as possible, such as Passivhaus:
All of this does come at some financial cost, but there are some elements of good news on this front: Alll new build houses are likely to be 0% VAT rated. See the HMRC website below for details:
Current government incentives to self build, and the cost of existing stock relative to the cost of new build may also now make new build homes a more attainable option, see:
1. "Building a Greener Future" http://www.communities.gov.uk/archived/publications/planningandbuilding/buildinggreener