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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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.

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.

 

 

Reasons To Buy Into Breeam – Michael Brogden, Director, Darren Evans Assessments

BREEAM in-use Certificates world map September2012

BREEAM was developed 25 years ago by the Building Research Establishment as a comprehensive assessment tool for demonstrating a building’s sustainability against a wide range of criteria. During its lifetime it has grown to become an internationally respected system of established benchmarks and industry recognised measures for evaluating the specification, design, construction and use of buildings. However, what are the key reasons that you might consider implementing BREEAM on their project?

If you are an architect or a specifier, one of the best reasons to choose BREEAM is that the broad range of environmental criteria which it covers enables you to demonstrate your firm’s variety of skills in delivering environmentally friendly as well as energy efficient buildings. The process of achieving the credits required within each of the relevant categories within BREEAM encourages designers and contractors to seek innovative ways of delivering projects and to consider environmental aspects at a much earlier point in a project than might normally be the case.

The certification demonstrates that reducing environmental impact is high on the agenda of the whole product team, and that the design team has managed to deliver on that agenda. Buildings certified under BREEAM will have lower running costs, lower water and energy consumption and less waste, and often incorporate passive design principles, renewable energy and responsibly sourced building products with lower embodied energy. Therefore, it is a sign that a more thoughtful approach has been taken throughout the project.

For building owners BREEAM is the recognised badge that shows they have maximised the sustainability potential of their building. In addition, the rigorous way that BREEAM rated projects are audited and run provides a credibility which gives confidence in the ratings which are produced at the end of the process, whether the building is Very Good, Excellent or Outstanding. This plus the wide and growing awareness of BREEAM across all sectors of the industry enables buildings to be differentiated in the marketplace and command a higher degree of desirability. This is crucial in the commercial sector for example where BREEAM rated buildings are typically rented faster to tenants.

For contractors, BREEAM enables firms to demonstrate best practice when it comes to delivering sustainable construction which for example diverts as much waste from landfill as possible and reuses materials. In addition, certification shows that they are able to reduce ecological damage caused by construction, and are focused on increasing ecological value on sites where possible. Successful BREEAM projects mitigate pollution incidents, minimise impact on neighbours and increase biodiversity, as well as use of local suppliers. Achieving all of these benefits is assisted by the fact that the process of undergoing BREEAM helps improve monitoring of these factors.

Some other compelling reasons to adopt BREEAM:

  • The assessment tool tends to encourage buildings to be designed for longevity and future adaptation, making them more resilient
  • Certification shows that the build reduces ecological damage from construction and adds value to the local community
  • BREEAM helps to create buildings that are fit for purpose for the client via the consultation approach which is inherent to achieving the certification
  • BREEAM buildings provide a healthier environment for users with increased holistic benefits such as natural light and ventilation
  • BREEAM demonstrates that reducing environmental impact is top of the agenda for building owners, architects, contractors, developers and end users.

As it celebrates its 25th birthday, BREEAM is without doubt a success story for the construction industry, helping raise the bar for sustainability in the UK and internationally with a robust assessment system which adds tangible value. With over 425,000 buildings having been assessed so far, that means a lot of projects which are offering healthier, better environments for employees plus a good image for construction’s ability to achieve measurable sustainability improvements.

One Way To Sustainably Solve The Uk’s Housing Crisis Is Right Under Our Noses

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The Housing Minister Brandon Lewis last week said that the Government wants to build 1 million homes by 2020 to solve our housing crisis of skyrocketing demand matched with a lack of supply. The need to address this is now acute, and there will be a concerted effort in the industry over the next few years. However with many reasons why building on greenfield sites is not the most advisable option, a far more sustainable alternative is presented by the hundreds of thousands of existing buildings lying empty across the UK.

Following re-election in May this year the Government published its house building policy saying it would make public sector land available to build a further 150,000 houses, which is laudable. It also announced the creation of 30 Housing Zones on brownfield sites which would provide a vital stimulus for building in urban areas. However there seems to be precious little in terms of national policy when it comes to unlocking the potential of reusing and refurbishing our unused buildings to create energy-efficient, good quality housing and kill two birds with one stone. This plentiful opportunity is being left to ad hoc initiatives by enlightened housing associations and developers when it could be a much more powerful source of progress.

Across our public sector there are swathes of empty buildings which are being maintained but are standing empty, and which could provide the raw materials for a sustainable refurbishment revolution. Even the City of London recorded vacant property rates around the 16% mark in 2005 (the DCLG has not been able to publish figures since then due to budget cuts), and if a case is not being made for releasing such assets even in an area of such premium real estate then clearly something is wrong. The NHS revealed in 2014 that is it is spending up to £60m annually on maintaining empty buildings which is a fairly shocking figure. Additionally, the bar doesn’t seem to be being raised for refurbishments when it comes to building performance in the Building Regulations in the same way as it is for new builds currently, which might force some of these buildings to be addressed.

The fact is, upgrading empty buildings into modern fit for purpose housing would be a sustainability double whammy. We would firstly be reusing existing resources in terms of land, building materials and their embodied energy. And while many of these buildings might provide a useful base in terms of building fabric to work from, whether they are Victorian or 1990s construction (in fact the latter might prove less energy efficient in some cases), upgrading them would produce sustainable assets from wasteful empty shells.

Clearly incentives such as tax breaks for companies investing in refurbishing empty buildings need to be looked at in order to encourage innovation and bravery, however the opportunity is clear. In many cases such schemes would answer

urgent housing needs in one fell swoop, creating sustainable, quality environments where people want to live. This could be the low hanging fruit that we urgently need to pick as a nation, and it’s crucial that the Government looks at a thorough review of our public assets to see where the opportunities are.

Regulation 25A: what it means for you and your new build

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A new regulation, Regulation 25A, has been introduced concerning the construction of new buildings.

According to Regulation 25A, before the construction of a new building starts, the builder/developer should carry out an analysis to determine the technical, environmental and economic feasibility of using high-efficiency alternative systems. In other words, a report should be compiled to show whether any of the following could be included, while still making the project cost-effective, environmentally sound, and technically feasible:

– Decentralised energy supply systems based on energy from renewable sources;
– Cogeneration (combined heat and power);
– District heating or cooling, particularly where it is based entirely or partially on energy from renewable sources;
– Heat pumps.

Before construction work starts, the developer must complete the report, and give the building control body (BCB) a notice to confirm that it has been undertaken and properly documented. The BCB can request a copy of the report if necessary.

Importantly, there is no requirement to actually install these systems once the report has been completed, if the target emission rates can be achieved in another way.

Regulation 25A came into effect on 9th July 2013, and applies to all work submitted after that date. However, projects are exempt from the regulation if they:

– Commenced work before 9th July 2013;
– Served an initial notice on or before 8th July 2013, and work commenced onsite on or before 9th;

A project has ‘commenced work’ when:

– A single foundation has been excavated;
– A length of drain or manhole serving at least one plot has been installed;
– A single raft foundation has been formed;
– A pile for a single plot has been installed.

To help builders and developers with the new regulation, NHBC Building Control has sent out forms which can be filled out and used as proof that the analysis has been completed. Our team is fully trained to carry out this report, and it can be incorporated into our Sustainability/Energy Statement package for an additional fee.