Thursday, 19 January 2012

Making a green home viable!

Have you ever thought of taking a step back from your daily habits, consumer choices and try to understand their impact on the environment? Are you aware your house is a major source of pollution?! And did you know one third of the UK’S CO2 emissions are from construction? Scary don’t you think! 

How we design and use our houses has a massive impact on the environment so Interior designers and architects have an important role in sustainability and energy saving.

Immoderate resource, energy consumption and CO2 generation are some of the problems we and future generations are facing which demand immediate attention.  

Yes the industrialized world has largely created most of the problem so they have a responsibility to come up with solutions but so does it with us. I’m not saying we all have to have our toilets flush with rainwater, have the walls insulated with newspapers, the kitchen built from yoghurt pots and the doorbell and shower their own solar panel. But when designing your home try and remember some of this. It benefits you, your wallet and the environment.  

By 2016 all new housing has be built to higher carbon neutral standard or preferably to Sustainable Homes’ code “Level 6”; the house would be designed so it needs no space heating or cooling (known as the passivhaus standard), plus there has to be a balance between residual energy use such as water heating, lighting, appliances and ambient energy generated on site i.e. photovoltaic panels or wind turbines.

The above thermal image shows heat loss from a Passive House (right) compared to a traditional house (left)
 For a successful design to meet the passivhaus standard there must be:

·         Super-insulation of fabric and glazing i.e. 400mm of cellulose fibre or 200mm of phenolic foam roof insulation.

·         Incorporation of available thermal mass i.e. in dense floor and internal wall materials to absorb and even out heat gains.

·         Designs for effective control of internal and external heat gains i.e. passive solar design, heat reclaim ventilation and so on.

The code will also call for environmentally friendly kitchen materials including glass and metal instead of plastic, forest service-certified wood and chemical-free glues. Indeed these materials often cost more although the long-term results are certainly worth it. 

While the code sets a requirement to design buildings to a higher standard we are struggling with the legacy of the poor environmental standards of older buildings. Short of introducing a home scrappage scheme or insisting enhancements and alterations to existing buildings meet the new code there is little that can be done to improve the environmental footprint of the building stock. It is a gradual process.

We have a huge opportunity to improve the environment and our future just by applying these high standards when doing a home refurbishment or new build - so be green, enjoy building but most of all be creative.

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