NEUTRAL IS POSITIVE – CARBON NEUTRAL, BACK ON THE AGENDA By Darren Evans, Managing Director, Darren Evans Assessments

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Earlier this year the government scrapped its zero carbon homes plan – again. Were the plans too ambitious or were they just simply not required or valued by the industry? Many believe it was the wrong decision. But the question remains, are zero carbon or carbon neutral buildings financially achievable in the current climate and does the desire still exist to strive to create them?

In May of this year the government overruled the House of Lords and scrapped the zero-carbon homes policy – a policy it had scrapped in July 2015. The House of Lords had attempted to reinstate the standard for all new homes through an amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill but the proposals were thrown out. Instead, the government committed to a review of energy standards in current Building Regulations. To many, including the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC), this is seen as a very ‘weak clause’.

The abandoned zero-carbon rules, which were due to come into force this year, would have required new housing developments to generate energy through renewable sources such as solar panels or ground-source heat pumps. So why the u-turn and where does that leave our drive for lower energy homes?

One reason given for the scrapping of the regulations was to boost housebuilding. This seems a contraction given the fact that in July, two months after scrapping zero carbon homes, Housing minister, Gavin Barwell, said that the Government remains committed to building 1 million new homes.

So whilst we are getting mixed messages from Government and a lack of legislation to drive the carbon neutral agenda, how does the market view our position? Is there a place for zero carbon homes?

Sustainability is now considered a norm. However all too often motives for sustainability, especially in the commercial sector, are short term and driven by motives such as quick financial gain. For example, carbon reduction with the driving force being reducing immediate energy costs rather than long term resource efficiency. In the housing sector, whilst there is no doubt that housebuilders are ‘making hay whilst the sun shines’, there are more discerning clients, especially housing associations, looking at the future and realising that the great gains are made by playing the long game.

You only have to look at the growth of BREEAM the internationally recognised measure of sustainability for buildings and communities. More than 530,000 certificates have been issued under BREEAM on more than 24,000 projects in over 70 countries and over 2.2 million buildings and communities are registered for certification. This has to be the largest, global, indicator that developers, tenants and clients see the value in sustainability.

Whilst achieving zero carbon isn’t easy and it can come at a cost, many are now understanding the long term gains. It is estimated that a mixed-use development built to BREEAM Outstanding will add around 4.8% to the overall capital costs. However the payback in terms of lower running costs can be less than 10 years. Long game? 10 years isn’t that long!

The growth in the application of passive techniques in the UK and the reduction in cost of renewables are now making zero carbon a commercial viability. Yes there is still work to do to educate homeowners what living in a zero carbon homes means and the lifestyle changes required. However at a time when consumers are looking at how they can save themselves money, present someone with an opportunity for low or even zero utilities bills and they will bite your arm off.

I am pleased to see more clients looking forwards and talking about how they can achieve carbon neutral developments. We need to make sure that zero carbon is seen as a long term positive and like sustainability, becomes a norm rather than a aspiration.

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UPDATED: ZERO CARBON HOMES – CHANGES TO THE LONDON PLAN REQUIREMENTS by Graham Suttill, Sustainable Buildings Assessor, Darren Evans Assessments

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What is the London Plan?

The London Plan is the statutory spatial development strategy outlining six core objectives for the Greater London area. First published in 2004, the Plan has been amended and added to. Most relevant to the construction industry is Chapter 5, London’s response to Climate Change, which includes requirements for sustainable development within the Greater London area

What’s happening to it?

As of October 1 2016, the London Plan requirements for energy statements are changing, with a significant revision to section 5.2 “minimising carbon dioxide emissions”. The adjustment to the policy requires all major developments will be required to be ‘zero carbon’ however if this cannot be achieved then a cash in lieu contribution will be sought. In addition to the ‘zero carbon’ targets, further emphasis is to be placed on district heating networks and a new requirement to follow the cooling hierarchy, which includes an in depth overheating risk analysis, will be introduced. This blog will focus on the ‘zero carbon’ element of the GLA guidance1 on preparing energy statements.

How will this affect developers?

All major developments within the Greater London Authority (GLA) currently have to submit an energy strategy to comply with policies 5.2 to 5.9 of the London Plan. These policies cover a range of topics including but not exclusive to: sustainable design and construction, decentralised energy networks and renewable energy.

The area most developers are aware of is Policy 5.2 Minimising Carbon Dioxide Emissions, which involves following the energy hierarchy: Be Lean, Be Clean and Be Green. The Be Lean stage requires major developments to meet or exceed Part L of the building regulations through energy demand reduction methods alone. Be Clean requires the viability of district heating and combined heat and power (CHP) systems to be assessed.

The final stage, Be Green, requires a feasibility study for renewable or low/zero carbon technologies to be undertaken with a commitment to reduce CO2 emissions through onsite generation. The current level of this commitment is to demonstrate a minimum 35% improvement over Part L of the 2013 Building Regulations.

Although the Government announced in July 2015 that it does not intend to pursue the zero carbon homes target at present, it remains in place within the London Plan and will be applied to all major residential developments received on or after October 1 2016. The “zero carbon” target requires the new developments to follow the energy hierarchy as outlined above (still meeting the 35% reduction in CO2 at the Be Green stage) but with the remaining emissions to be off-set through a cash in lieu contribution to the relevant borough.

These funds will then be ring-fenced to secure carbon dioxide savings elsewhere. The cash in lieu payment is to be £60 per tonne of carbon dioxide for a period of 30 years based upon The Mayor’s Housing Standard’s Viability Assessment, although this figure can be decided at a borough level.

What will the developers make of this?

First and foremost it is likely to come as a surprise to a majority of developers as there has been very little so far in the way of announcing the ‘zero carbon’ targets. The target was included in the updated guidance on preparing energy assessments (March 2016) and has stayed largely unreported.

With developers unaware problems could be caused with planning applications being rejected for not including a strategy on how the target will be met or a calculation demonstrating the cash in lieu contribution. Although the target will lead to increased costs it is unlikely this will lead to development stalling as was one of the major concerns with the governments zero carbon homes target which were scrapped earlier in the year.

This is partly being attributable to the buoyancy of the London property market which isn’t seen elsewhere.

Can you give a cash in lieu example?

A carbon offset payment has been calculated for a previously completed project which comprised of 14 residential flats with a combined floor area of 993.50 m2. The flats were designed to exceed Part L requirements using individual gas boilers for heating and hot water. Then a 15 kWp solar PV system was installed to achieve a 42% improvement over the Building Regulations standard.

After the PV at the Be Green stage, the site wide emissions stood at 10.664 tonnes CO2/year. Assuming the offset price of £60 per tonne, this works out at £640 per year and multiplying the figure to cover the 30 years gives a total of £19,200 to be paid to the Carbon Offset Fund.

What do you make of the changes?

It is pleasing to see the Greater London Authority adhering to previous commitments on carbon dioxide reduction, with viability assessments indicating the “zero carbon” targets will not compromise future housing development. The target is seen as essential to ensure London is ready for the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive introduction of zero energy buildings by 2020.

WELL, WELL, WELL By Darren Evans, Managing Director, Darren Evans Assessments

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Sustainability has been at the top of the agenda for many years but I have an ever-increasing feeling that much of the industry is missing the next step. Over recent years we have been placing our emphasis on the environmental and economic parts of sustainability, but we shouldn’t forget the fact that we are creating buildings for people and the well-being of these people should be the priority. So the question is: Are we putting buildings before people? Is it now time to place greater emphasis on people?

When you look at costs in relation to buildings, we freely talk about energy savings but our biggest cost is the people within them and this figure is an astonishing 90% of that overall cost. In addition it has been claimed that we spend over 90% of our time indoors and in an office environment. So why has the focus been put firmly on creating better buildings when, in fact, we should be creating buildings to make the occupants feel better, and in turn, happier and more productive? Imagine what we could achieve if we were able to increase productivity in an office by just 1% simply through creating a better working environment? Well, I have a feeling this is all about to change.

A couple of months ago it was alluded to in an article in Building magazine that the WELL Building Standard could soon be aligned with global sustainability standard BREEAM. The WELL Standard, created by US-based consultants Delos, measures human health and wellness using evidence-based medical and scientific research to help inform better design of buildings. To quote Delos founder Paul Scialla and Building magazine: “Delos are in talks with BRE about pairing the WELL Standard with BREEAM.” This could be a major step forward to aligning the performance of buildings with the wellness of its occupants as reinforced by Scialla who stated that he realised 7 years ago there was a “huge gap in regard to not enough understanding of how the built environment really is impacting biological sustainability as opposed to just environmental.”

BREEAM has long been the ‘go to’ standard to help deliver sustainable buildings. Used in more than 70 countries and with 24,000 projects around the world, and more than 2.2 million buildings and communities registered for certification, it is clear to understand the value that the built environment places on BREEAM. Whilst BREEAM does encourage occupier and building owners to continually monitor performance, it doesn’t go as far as looking and measuring occupier behaviours and well-being. Surely this is the next natural step? And, as if on cue, we have WELL.

Whilst the WELL Standard has been in existence for some years now – most actively in the USA – it is relatively new to Europe. However, Studio Ben Allen Architects’ One Carter Lane project is on course to receive the accreditation. One Carter Lane, the new London headquarters of engineers Cundall, is a 15,400ft² Cat-A office fit-out. The fit-out provides new workspaces for up to 180 employees and attained a BREEAM Excellent rating and SKA Gold certification.

The WELL Building Standard defines a set of compliance requirements that cover seven key areas: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. It looks at driving change towards more personal criteria such as stating that 30% of staff must have space to eat lunch together; materials such as desks and storage must use natural materials; and that the volatile organic compound (VOC) rating of all materials must be between negligible and zero, thus ensuring that office fixtures, fittings and fabric do not expel harmful chemical or organic emissions.

So how does all this help to improve well-being and, whilst we can measure productivity, how do we actually measure emotions such as happiness and the direct effect this has on outputs? And the big question is: What cost does this add to a project? According to Cundall it has added around 3% to the project value which equates to just £200 per head.

There are elements of WELL that will need to be addressed if it is to become mainstream in the UK, in much the same way that BREEAM has. For example, in the UK and many other European countries, certain standards are higher than those within WELL. A comparative base line will need to be created so we are not rewarding for going backwards. Also the business case will be different. In the US there is no NHS, instead private healthcare is provided by employers. As such there is a clear reason for US employers to adopt WELL to increase productivity and reduce their healthcare costs. We may need to look at incentives for UK employers.

In the case of the success of One Carter Lane, time will tell, but the initial reports do indicate that a working environment that promotes happiness, well-being, positivity and improved productivity has been created. The challenge is how do we adopt wellness in the same way that we have embraced sustainability?

For me, wellbeing is a vital part of every building – whether it is a school, a hospital, an office or a home. Buildings that make us feel comfortable, happy and calm are essential. With so much of our time spent indoors, and with illness costing UK businesses on average £550 per employee per year (a total of about £30bn, according to the Chartered Institute of Professional Development) it’s something that we all need to embrace – after all we build buildings for people.

WHAT PLACE DO STUDENT PLACEMENTS HAVE IN OUR INDUSTRY? By Jack Roberts, Trainee Sustainability Assessor at Darren Evans Assessments

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The last few months have shown that we live in a rapidly changing society and we are entering the great unknown when it comes to our relationship with Europe. As a student, there are many decisions to make when it comes to choosing a career. With so much uncertainty is the construction industry still a sure bet for a lifelong career?

At its pre-recession peak in 2008, the UK’s construction workforce was over 2.58 million, by the end of last year this had dropped by nearly 13% to 2.25 million. This shift, during the recession, has caused a skills gap, within the industry. As such, it would seem that this very large industry still has a lot to offer graduates.

I’m studying BSc Environmental Resource Management at the University of West England in Bristol. Before my final year of study I wanted to gain practical experience from the industry to help me complete my final year project as well as giving me a head start with a future career path. I’m soon to complete a 13 month industrial placement at sustainability consultants; Darren Evans Assessments.

My role as a Trainee Sustainability Assessor has involved working on residential projects ranging from; multi-residential retirement villages, sites of over 100 dwellings to a single private house project. Work has focussed on both the Code for Sustainable Homes (CfSH) assessments, ranging from entry level above building regulations to zero carbon as well as, SAP calculation to comply with Building Regulations Part L.

When looking for a placement opportunity I was very open minded about what role to go for. I had minimal construction knowledge – my parents once built a house about 7 years ago, that was about it. However, the industry has always had an appeal – I have always been interested in new houses or developments being constructed nearby. With this in mind, I looked upon my placement as an opportunity to develop skills and experience in a sector I knew little about but where I knew the skills I would learn could be transferrable.

My placement has made me change my perception of the industry considerably. I find it fascinating and I love learning about new developments and really enjoy being a part of a team working on these schemes.

The importance of practical ‘hands on’ experience is vital. The placement has made me realise the challenge of learning academic material at University but then finding that the real life application is very different – the skills you learn in the classroom provide you with a good background to certain processes but their real life implementation is very different and in many cases, coursework doesn’t equip you with the knowledge to apply your learning. For example, I knew the basis of SAP calculations and that on completion they produce an EPC. However I didn’t know how they were carried out. Since finding out how to do this first hand, I have also been able to share this knowledge with some of my fellow students as well as my lecturers.

So, if we combine the challenge of the skills gap with the fact that graduates are going out into the workplace who have academic skills and understanding but not the practical skills to put them into place, it does question why our Colleges and Universities do not have a better relationship with the industry. It highlights the fact that placements are a vital part of a degree, providing the link between academia and the real world and allowing students to align their learnings with application.

I would love to come back to Darren Evans Assessments upon graduation to develop my knowledge of the industry or alternatively work for a major housebuilder, where I can make suggestions on improving their building efficiency using the knowledge I have gained from my placement, as well as my degree.

Whichever route I choose I know that the decision to include a placement within the construction industry has put me on a path to an exciting career in, what is undoubtedly, one of the most exciting industries in this country and possibly the world.

ZERO CARBON HOMES – CHANGES TO THE LONDON PLAN REQUIREMENTS Graham Suttill, Sustainable Buildings Assessor, Darren Evans Assessments

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As of October 1 2016, the London Plan requirements for energy statements are changing. All major developments will be required to be ‘zero carbon’ however if this cannot be achieved then a cash in lieu contribution will be sought. In addition to the ‘zero carbon’ targets, further emphasis is to be placed on district heating networks and a new requirement to follow the cooling hierarchy, which includes an in depth overheating risk analysis, will be introduced. This blog will focus on the ‘zero carbon’ element of the GLA guidance on preparing energy statements.

All major developments within the Greater London Authority (GLA) currently have to submit an energy strategy to comply with policies 5.2 to 5.9 of the London Plan. These policies cover a range of topics including but not exclusive to: sustainable design and construction, decentralised energy networks and renewable energy.

The area most developers are aware of is Policy 5.2 Minimising Carbon Dioxide Emissions, which involves following the energy hierarchy: Be Lean, Be Clean and Be Green. The Be Lean stage requires major developments to meet or exceed Part L of the building regulations through energy demand reduction methods alone. Be Clean requires the viability of district heating and combined heat and power (CHP) systems to be assessed.

The final stage, Be Green, requires a feasibility study for renewable or low/zero carbon technologies to be undertaken with a commitment to reduce CO2 emissions through onsite generation. The current level of this commitment is to demonstrate a minimum 35% improvement over Part L of the 2013 Building Regulations.

Although the Government announced in July 2015 that it does not intend to pursue the zero carbon homes target at present, it remains in place within the London Plan and will be applied to all major residential developments received on or after October 1 2016. The “zero carbon” target requires the new developments to follow the energy hierarchy as outlined above (still meeting the 35% reduction in CO2 at the Be Green stage) but with the remaining emissions to be off-set through a cash in lieu contribution to the relevant borough.

These funds will then be ring-fenced to secure carbon dioxide savings elsewhere. The cash in lieu payment is to be £60 per tonne of carbon dioxide for a period of 30 years based upon The Mayor’s Housing Standard’s Viability Assessment, although this figure can be decided at a borough level.

As an example, a carbon offset payment has been calculated for a previously completed project which comprised of 14 residential flats with a combined floor area of 993.50 m2. The flats were designed to exceed Part L requirements using individual gas boilers for heating and hot water. Then a 15 kWp solar PV system was installed to achieve a 42% improvement over the Building Regulations standard.

After the PV at the Be Green stage, the site wide emissions stood at 10.664 tonnes CO2/year. Assuming the offset price of £60 per tonne, this works out at £640 per year and multiplying the figure to cover the 30 years gives a total of £19,200 to be paid to the Carbon Offset Fund

It is pleasing to see the Greater London Authority adhering to previous commitments on carbon dioxide reduction, with viability assessments indicating the “zero carbon” targets will not compromise future housing development. The target is seen as essential to ensure London is ready for the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive introduction of zero energy buildings by 2020.

AN INDUSTY BACK ON TRACK – BUT JUST IN TIME FOR BREXIT UNCERTAINTY Darren Evans, Managing Director, Darren Evans Assessments

in.outFor most in the construction industry, 2016 (so far!) has been a busy, more profitable year than 2015. But are we on the road to recovery and what does the future hold with Brexit looming?

The latest GDP figures showed that the UK economy had grown by 0.4% in the first quarter of 2016 with construction now currently 4.3% below its pre-recession peak. However the latest figures from the ONS (Office for National Statistics) indicate the construction sector in the UK declined by 1.1% between Q4 2015 and Q1 2016.

The main reason for the quarterly fall in output are declines in the infrastructure and private industrial sectors, as well as falls in the public sector more generally. Over the longer term, the private housing sector appears to be holding strong as output is 4.9% higher in Q1 2016 compared to the corresponding quarter in 2015.

However, the infrastructure sector declined by 5.6% over the quarter and by 8.1% compared to the first quarter of 2015, which has proved a drag on overall growth.

So there appears to be signs we are going in the right direction. In fact, the CPA (Construction Products Association) / Barbour ABI Index which measures the level of contracts awarded has reported an increase from the previous month which supports the view that overall activity in the industry remains strong.

So where are the hot spots? The figures for private housing, commercial retail and industrial were up significantly in the month whilst commercial offices has cooled and remained at last month’s level. This would indicate that the pipeline of work in the private sector remains strong.

To put some numbers on it, April witnessed an increase in construction levels with the value of new contracts awarded being £6.1 billion, based on a three-month rolling average. This is a 0.9% increase from March and a 10% increase on the value recorded in April 2015. Further, the number of construction projects within the UK in April increased by 10.5% when compared to March.

So the market looks positive but is this just a flurry before the EU referendum on Thursday 23 June?

There has been a lot of debate in the industry regarding the potential impact of a Brexit from the European Union. A survey by Smith & Williamson recently found that only 15% of construction executives favoured a UK exit from the European Union whilst a survey by KPMG found that 66% of construction industry professionals believe that Brexit would stop some EU investors from putting their money into London developments. But are there really such danger signs ahead if the UK goes it alone, or is it the fear factor at work?

Around half of the funding for London property comes from overseas investors, but EU countries are a small minority with countries like Russia and increasingly those in the Middle East having a much larger relative impact. They are unlikely to be put off if the UK decides to leave the EU as it will not affect the range of compelling economic, legal and lifestyle reasons they chose to live in London.

The big issue seems to be around the scaremongering of those who insist leaving the EU would make trade far more difficult with other European nations. However, we are in a global economy where it is in everyone’s interests to trade openly and freely so would we really see barriers come up? Also the red tape imposed by Europe can often make it easier to trade with those outside the EU.

There is also the view that a key resource that we look to Europe for is labour. Exiting the EU would impact the ease of movement for labour and with the construction industry looking like it is on the up, the demand for labour is likely to grow. This means either free movement from EU members is going to be a greater necessity, or the UK is going to have to invest in training up a huge number of British workers to fill the gap.

What way we go will be decided in a fortnight’s time and at the moment it seems too close to call. What is clear though is that whatever happens, the industry will change – maybe not overnight but over time. Will this have a negative effect on our growing industry? I hope not. Will it help to improve global trade? I hope so. Will it help to create more jobs, I hope so. Will it be more jobs for the Brits or more jobs for the Europeans? We will find out.

 

 

AIRCRETE AIDS THERMAL DESIGN BUT BEWARE OF A SHORTAGE Marcus Eves, Sustainability Consultant, Darren Evans Assessments

 

Marcus Eves 3The demand for Aircrete blocks has been steadily growing over the past few years. This can be thanked by a combination of the change in building regulations (Part L 2013) and a housing crisis that has led to strong growth in the residential sector.

With Part L 2013 putting more emphasis on the requirement of an even more thermally efficient fabric, through compliance with the Fabric Energy Efficiency Target (FEE) Aircrete blocks have become the preferred choice to achieve lower U-Values and better PSI Values (Thermal Bridging/heat loss at junctions) and an overall easier route to compliance.

The pace of the industry growth and a lack of raw materials have started to cause a shortage of Aircrete blocks, unwelcome bad news which is slowly rippling through the construction industry.

Pulverised Fuel Ash (PFA) is the main waste product from coal fired power stations and this raw material is integral in the production of most Aircrete blocks in the UK. This lack of material could similarly impact on other concrete blocks, cement and ready mix concrete as these products also use PFA.

A handful of factors have combined to see levels of PFA production drop. A mild winter has reduced the overall level of electricity generation in the UK, lower gas prices has seen electricity generators burn less coal and more gas and as we drive ourselves forward to a greener energy infrastructure reliance on coal power has diminished and will continue to do so.

There is potential to import PFA from coal fired power stations across Europe, but this has never been needed before so the transportation network and infrastructure just isn’t there yet. For now, the most important thing to do is be aware and plan ahead.

A change from Aircrete blocks to a denser block will ultimately see a rise in emissions through high heat losses through the walls and the junctions. This will cause some buildings to fail to meet the Emission and FEE targets, where previously the design assessment was compliant. Compliance with Part L can still be achieved with a change in blockwork as long as the assessor is informed early enough to propose ways to offset the additional CO2 and heat losses.

So the advice is to anticipate the shortage and to begin to design denser blocks into your SAP and SBEM calculations as early as possible.