Architect Luke Tozer takes a close look at the realities of sustainable housing.
Few people commission a home directly. Most houses are provided by builders, developers and registered social landlords (RSLs) who then sell or rent them to occupants.
People on Kevin McCloud’s Grand Designs programme are ahead of the curve and can usually afford to indulge their environmental preoccupations. Spending a few thousand pounds in upgraded insulation seems cheap when building from scratch, though investing far beyond the building regulations still takes longer to pay back than the average house stay of seven years.
The Feed-in Tariff’s introduction last April changed the market in renewables for householders. It’s now possible to get a decent rate of return, assuming you have the right conditions of orientation to take advantage of it. But it would be foolish to install such technologies without minimising the carbon footprint of the house in the first place.
The demonstration houses at the British Research Establishment innovation park outside Watford show how far you can go and how much you can spend to achieve an ambitious low-energy home on a one-off basis, but the general lessons are rather harder to extrapolate. The Coalition Government’s Green Deal, representing an attempt to move the market in retrofitting fabric improvements, will start coming on-stream in 2012. Intelligently the costs of the work stay with the house, even if the owner sells and moves, and are paid back through energy bills over time.
The Technology Strategy Board Retrofit for the Future projects should provide further evidence that can be applied more widely. Costs are likely to fall significantly through economies of scale.
House builders and developers generally seek the most cost-effective way of meeting planning and building regulations requirements. But without long-term interest being retained in the land, and with no demonstrable premium for a sustainable home, few house builders can afford to pursue sustainability aggressively.
Social landlords have motives other than pure profit and often need to address issues of corporate responsibility for themselves and fuel poverty for their tenants. After all, building a home that needs no heating means even the poorest can afford to live there.
Registered social landlords and local authorities often have large housing stocks with long-term tenants, and undertaking refurbishment works with people in situ presents real challenges. Effective communication and tenant liaison, coupled with simple straightforward controls, are critical for the ongoing success of any sustainable scheme. A household’s carbon footprint is dramatically affected by its occupants’ lifestyle choices, as well as by the fabric of the house. Research suggests that two neighbouring low energy households can have a threefold difference in carbon footprint, so helping occupants understand how best to use buildings and make low energy choices is vital.
The key to pursuing sustainability is long-term interest in what’s being built. If you’re a private developer needing to sell quickly to recoup your investment, it’s simply not economically feasible to pursue sustainability beyond the minimum demanded by planning and building regulations. A wider take-up of sustainable housing can happen only when long-term planning for sustainability also pays dividends in the shorter term, or when real financial benefits accrue from retaining a long-term interest in the land.
Going beyond current requirements
Le Corbusier named a house “a machine for living in” in 1923 but today it might be more accurately called “a machine for living in sustainably”. By 2016 all new homes in the UK are due to be zero carbon, with incremental carbon footprint reductions for the trickier existing building stock leading to an 80 percent reduction by 2050. Legislation changes force behavioural changes, so the main tool for achieving these is in the building regulations, with stepped improvements along the way.
Yet people are building sustainable houses that go beyond current requirements – why? For homeowners and institutional investors the reasons differ, but for both it’s as a result of longer-term thinking rather than a quick return on investment.
Even now the cost benefit of reducing the environmental impact of a home is difficult to value except by anticipated reductions to energy bills. The energy performance certificate helped, but few estate agents regard a good score as a major selling point, as the lack of empirical evidence makes it hard for a purchaser to factor it into their criteria. Location and size come first, with energy performance, if not quite last, very low down the list. Clearly this could change if energy costs continue to rise, but for now if you’re building a sustainable house it’s usually for reasons that are not immediately financial.
Some of the more patient developers and long-term investors, such as Grosvenor Estates, have starting building high-value, low-energy apartments. These will test whether there is, or could be, a premium for low-energy housing in the way there has started to be in commercial buildings. Still, it’s early days.
How Going Green Can Save A Company Money
What is going green?
Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.
The first step in going green
There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.
Making needed changes within the company
After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.
Reducing the common paper waste
Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.
Make money by spreading the word
Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.
5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable
Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.
1. Weather stripping
If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.
Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.
Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.
2. Programmable thermostats
Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.
Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!
3. Low-flow water hardware
With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.
Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.
Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.
4. Energy efficient light bulbs
An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.
New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.
5. Installing solar panels
Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.
Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.
From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!
These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.