Eco Refurbishment and the Green Deal

2012 looks set to be a big year for retrofitting. Whilst some are sceptical about the Green Deal, Vince Cable has estimated that it could create up to 100,000 new jobs. The Green Register (TGR) is running a series of one-day courses across the UK  to outline the challenges and opportunities at stake.

Footprint went along to the TGR’s Eco-Refurbishment and the Green Deal London seminar last week.  Over three-quarters of the 25 attendees were architects - mainly solo practitioners, but also participants from Wilkinson Eyre and Purcell Miller Tritton. The seminar covered a huge range of topics explaining the complexity of the task ahead. This is not about add-ons or one-size-fits-all solutions, but requires an understanding of complex architectural problems.

TGR founder and architect Lucy Pedler from archipeleco began the day by discussing various case studies from period properties. From retrofitting Georgian and Victorian houses to an impressive ‘extreme eco-refurb’ of her own 1930s house, she focused on the important message - build tight, ventilate right.

Thermal image of Lucy Pedler’s ‘extreme eco-refurb’

A key issue is how  retrofit impacts listed historic buildings. The work of Edinburgh-based Changeworks provided a useful insight into the challenges of working in a world heritage site. They faced many battles with planners who repeatedly described discreet double glazing as ‘offensive’ and insisted that solar panels only be installed on the inside pitch of the south facing butterfly roofs. Nevertheless, Changeworks proposals were eventually accepted and have been influential in changing Scottish planning policy. Comprehensive details can be downloaded here.

Changeworks retrofitting of Edinburgh tenements'

Ech2o’s Cath Hassel then spoke in detail about sustainable water solutions and retrofitting renewables, with useful calculations, graphs and maps. Key issues included the benefits of condensing boilers, problems with air source heat pumps and the difficulties of retrofitting greywater recycling.

Cath also presented Pimlico’s district heating system, once fueled by Battersea Power Station, to highlight the importance of the  wider urban context of eco-refurbs. 46 offices have now tapped into Pimlico’s district heating system, as well as Glastonbury House, a 23-storey tower block. As part of the project, Glastonbury House’s boiler room was relocated from the 22nd floor to the basement.  A residents’ sky-lounge replaced the former plant room, demonstrating that retrofit can have hidden benefits.

Finally, Craig O’Donnell from Knauf Insulation spoke about the opportunities of the Green Deal, explaining the utility companies’ obligations and the importance of the ‘golden rule’ (energy savings must be greater than payback costs). With 1 in 4 households now living in fuel poverty (and most living in solid-wall houses), the Green Deal is not only of environmental importance.

Pimlico district heating network

At one point, Craig discussed a particularly unattractive use of external insulation, urging the audience to ‘pretend you’re not architects for a minute!’ This raises an important point - no matter what the U-value, design must not be sidelined. Planners might be causing difficulties for refurb projects, but design integrity is important. Architects need to step in to ensure environmental improvements are not detrimental to good design.

Last week’s Autumn Statement made it clear that the government is putting a lot of its green eggs in the retrofit basket. But for the Green Deal to work, each house must be recognised as being as distinct and complex as its occupants. Critics say this complexity makes it far too difficult to retrofit 14 million homes by 2020. This challenge is an opportunity for architects willing to engage with this sector.

Read more about the Green Deal here. The government’s consultation period ends on 18 January 2012.

This course is definitely pitched at the right level for architects, with a lot of useful technical detail and recommendations for products. More Green Register courses are due to take place in Cardiff, Cambridge, Swindon, Bath or Birmingham, Newcastle, Manchester and Plymouth in 2012. To book, contact mail@greenregister.org.

by Tierney Lovell, past AJ Sustainability Intern

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