FAQ - Sustainability

The following commentary is an overview and should always be adjusted to suit the specifics of your project

Q: What on earth is sustainability?

In plain terms, sustainability -sometimes referred to as 'green' issues - is about making informed choices that help reduce our consumption of raw materials and energy by making our building stock ever more energy efficient, air-sealed and insulated to help better protect the planet for future generations.

It is a broad concept with ever changing interpretations affecting social, economic and environmental aspects, but in buildings, the ultimate target is achieving a Low or Zero Carbon (LZC) solution that is ' carbon neutral' - in other words the finished building saves as much energy over its lifetime as it took to build in the first place.

Q: Should I be interested in sustainability issues or not?

Yes, but to an extent the decision has already been made for you. Whether you are an 'eco-warrior' or a climate change sceptic, UK and devolved Government have a statutory duty to promote energy efficiency. The required level of compliance has periodically been raised in 2002, 2006, 2010 and again in 2014. These targets are embodied in the new Welsh Building Regulations (now devolved from England) and you will be obliged to meet increasingly tighter targets as we move towards domestic 'Zero Carbon' agenda.

Q: Can I opt in or out of sustainable solutions?

No, but there is a degree of flexibility in adjusting the 'recipe' mix of statutory compliant thermal values provided certain 'fall back' minimum standards are met. Local Authority Building Control Officers will be at the forefront of interpreting and enforcing how Government standards are to be applied, whilst Approved Inspectors will developing their own parallel interpretation to demonstrate that compliance has been achieved.

Q: Will sustainable measures involve extra cost?

Inevitably, putting in sustainable measures 'up front', be they the latest Statutory requirements or your own preference for a 'green' technology, there will be more cost in the initial outlay. The argument is that you make sufficient savings when running the building during the 'payback' period after occupation. This could be between 4% and 10% more expensive for a standard building without additional 'green' features, but lower heating bills are promised as a result. Payback for additional technologies like solar panels can take up to 15 years to become cost neutral, but the ecological benefit is enhanced in the interim.

Q: I'm only extending my house, so does it apply?

The Welsh Regulations require 'Consequential Improvements' to existing domestic properties subject to physical extension of floor area or 'renovation of a thermal element' such as walls or roof.

This means that if you are building an extension, you may also be required to improve/upgrade insulation in your original house at the same time. There are exemptions, for example if you can state that the extra cost of the consequential improvements would be detrimental to the financial viability of your extension plans.

Q: Does my builder need to know about sustainability?

Yes, and your average domestic builder will need to know even more about sustainability for new projects if they are to satisfy the Building Inspector on site. However, at the time of writing, your builder may struggle to find enough compliant products off the shelf at his local builders merchants as the legislation and guidance often lead the way ahead of manufacturers and their products.

Q: What is super-insulation and cold bridging?

A consequence of ever more 'super insulated' buildings (with thicker/higher levels of insulation) is that any cold spots in the construction (e.g. around window frames or where a structural element like a beam passes continuously from inside to out) are now proportionately colder than the adjacent warm construction. In modern air-tight buildings, the internal air is at risk of being more static than in 'leaky' old buildings and is less able to naturally ventilate those cold spots. In turn, the risk of discolouration (or even black mould growth) remain a possibility if not installed correctly or ventilated adequately.

Q: Where can I find out more about environmental technologies?

The Centre for Alternative Technology offers free information, advice and publications relating to core environmental measures to consider including solar power, water conservation, low energy design and sustainable materials.