Green Design, Green Upkeep: Building and Maintaining Your Environmentally-Friendly Home

Residing in an energy efficient building not only lowers your utility bills, but can add an average of 14% to your home’s value, meaning it is not only good for the environment, but also beneficial for you as the homeowner. When setting out to build a green home, there are several factors to take into account, but the most important one to keep in mind is that a green home needs to be treated as such, from inception and throughout its lifetime.

The first, and perhaps most important, step in building a green home is a design conducive to environmentally favourable construction. A green home is much more than simply designing the living spaces, but must also account for the mechanical systems and materials used to qualify as a green construction. Once you have your design in place, you can move on to choosing which green materials will make your home as efficient as possible.

Sustainability is Key
Choosing sustainable products is one of the most important aspects of constructing a green home. You’ll want to make sure you select building materials that are certified as such by a specialist organisation and to research those materials in terms of eco-friendliness and stability in the long term. For the larger portion of the construction, you’ll need to procure sustainably forested timber, and perhaps to look into a roofing material that can be recycled or repurposed at the end of its life cycle.

For the interior of the home, there are many green products that are aesthetically as lovely as anything else on the market. From flooring and skirting boards to countertops and backsplash tiles, there are a multitude of sustainably produced, recycled or recyclable, and re-purposed materials to select from that will fit any style. With green building being so popular now, manufacturers are quick to disclose such properties and advertise themselves as appropriate for ecological construction.

Pay More Upfront
Energy efficiency is one of the main components to green building and you’ll want to take this into account in all aspects of the home, from windows to mechanical systems. High efficiency systems may cost more upfront, but will save you energy and money in the long term, eventually paying for themselves. Many of these systems will come with a guarantee, and the manufacturers will have already done the maths on your projected savings over the life of the home, so you’ll quickly be able to see how much you’ll save.

A Finished House Isn’t the End
Once you’ve completed a sustainable, green home, you have to keep in mind that environmentally-friendly maintenance must be part of the plan. Some of this maintenance should factor into the home design, especially in terms of landscaping. You’ll want to select plants and grasses that are native to the area, therefore, requiring less water and fertilisation. Additionally, you’ll want to explore some eco-friendly cleaning solutions, as many cleaners use harsh toxic chemicals that can be damaging to the environment.

Committing to a home that is environmentally responsible is one that will last a lifetime. The process may be challenging, but keeping your goals and reasons for undertaking such a project is key. The financial commitment upfront may save you some money in the long run, but it will take more effort and money to bring your green home dreams to life, and to maintain it thereafter.

Zero-Energy
Designing and maintaining a zero-energy home takes a lot of thought and consideration as well as a know-how on the best way to get the most out of the technology involved. Technology is rapidly changing which means that the trends of today are often out of favour a few years later. Government subsidies and schemes can play a big part of how well companies market their preferred product in terms of benefits, efficiency and cost so it is important to do your research.

The bulk of the battle to become zero-energy often lies with simple aspects such as making sure the building is well insulated and air-tight. Thought should also be given to the orientation of the building in relation to the sun; as natural light can help reduce energy bills in terms of lighting, heating and cooling. Using some form of brise-soleil (an architectural feature of a building that reduces heat gain within that building by deflecting sunlight) can prevent overheating in the summer; whilst still gaining the warmth and light from the low winter sun. Trees that provide shade can also help.

Moving onto the technology side of things, there are many routes available that each have their benefits and drawbacks. Where energy is sourced from is perhaps the main hurdle to overcome. Whilst solar panels are one of the more well-known ways of reducing energy costs, other alternatives to look at include Micro CHP boilers, air source and ground source heat pumps. Upgrading appliances to more energy efficient ones is often overlooked. Mechanical Ventilation Heat Recovery can remove stale air whilst retaining some of the heat which transfers to the fresh air entering the building which reduces the amount of heating required.

Adding Energy Efficiency to Your Home Construction or Remodelling Plan

The repair, maintenance and improvement market for UK housing is about 25 billion per year according to the Construction Products Association (CPA) economic forecasts. In fact, most homeowners are seeking energy efficient improvements as part of a larger home remodelling project according to CPA. There are a number of things you can do to enhance energy efficiency in your home during construction or remodelling.

Double glazed windows and loft and wall insulation
Put in double glazed windows to keep your home warmer, quieter and safer. You can also enhance the warmth and quiet by adding loft and wall insulation, which is much cheaper than replacing all your old windows with double glazed windows. Loft insulation is meant to stop heat from escaping through the roof while wall insulation prevents heat loss through walls. If you have solid walls, external wall insulation could be the best choice for retaining heat in your home. However, if your walls have a cavity, this can be filled up with insulation material to stop heat from conducting through the walls. Insulating your home can save you money on your fuel bills, and improves the energy efficiency rating of your home.

Energy saving appliances
Electrical appliances have made things like piles of dirty dishes very rare in most homes, and although they cost money to run there are tumble dryers, dishwashers, fridges, washing machines, ovens and other appliances that are incredibly energy efficient. For example, the Miele TMG840 WP heat pump dryer uses hot air to suck out moisture from clothes. The machine also switches off when its sensors detect that the clothes have dried.

Saving energy with the light bulb
Another way to enhance energy efficiency in your home is by installing LED light bulbs. Investing in the latest expensive LED light bulb could save you up to £240 each year according to an article in The Telegraph. You can also install smart LED lighting in your home to add to your list of control options instead of being restricted to on and off. For instance, the Lifx light bulb is compatible with the three main voice assistants, which means that you can control it with your voice. These lights also have apps that you can download on your phone and use to control the lights.

Energy saving appliances and light bulbs are reasonable options if you are renting or cannot afford extensive home remodelling projects at the moment. However, if you are constructing a new home, you can start making your home energy efficient from the moment the foundation is being laid.

Save money with rain water harvesting.

Rainwater harvesting is exactly that – harvesting, or collecting rainwater as it runs off of impervious surfaces, and then storing it to use any time you want to. Traditionally, this involves collecting water from the roof which is directed to gutters, then it is channelled by these gutters, into downspouts which then direct the water into some sort of container. Rainwater collection has been around for such a long time, it just lost a bit of popularity over time, but as we move into an environmentally friendly age, it seems to be regaining in popularity.

The art of rainwater collection was forgotten for a very long time, but it’s making a bit of a comeback, with this environmentally friendly age we are moving into. For example, due to the Green Building Movement, you may begin to see more rainwater harvesting systems being implemented in America.

A rainwater collection system can be as simple as collecting rain in a water tight barrel, or something a tad more elaborate, like harvesting the rainwater into large cisterns to supply your household with their water supply.

Mind you, the use of rainwater collection is not to be confused with the use of grey water. Grey water is that water which is not dirty but it’s also not completely clean. It’s the leftover water from your bath or shower and your washing machine water (when it’s been on a rinse cycle), the water which is neither considered dirty, nor completely clean. This water can however also be collected and used on the garden, provided that not a lot of soap/detergent has been used. I’ll talk more about grey water soon in another blog.

There are many different benefits you could get from rainwater collection, including the obvious one – it’s free.

Harvesting your own rainwater gives you the freedom to manage your own water supply, you have complete control over it. Not to mention that you’d be helping to conserve water around the world, whilst promoting self sufficiency. Your garden would definitely benefit if you got into the habit of collecting rainwater too, as it’s better than the chlorinated, treated water from the taps – it is 100% natural after all! Implementing this system doesn’t have to be expensive at all, and it’s easy to retrofit to a building. These systems can also be very flexible, allowing to change their size, or move them if and when necessary.

All you need to do to take advantage of this resource is to catch the (free) water falling onto your roof, store it, and use it. That’s all there is to it. By implementing this simple system into your home, you can replace most, if not all of your water needs, saving you money!

You could achieve all of this, by the simple act of putting a bucket outside to collect water, and using it to wash your car, or your pet instead of the taps. It’s easy really.

Written by Jade Turney – Building Tectonics Ltd.

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What a code 6 house is.

We are currently working on an exciting project involving a code 6 eco house. The design for this house has been assessed using the Code for Sustainable Homes.

The code is an environmental assessment system for rating and certifying the performance of new homes in the UK. It is a set of standards which are used in the design and construction of new homes with a view to encouraging continuous improvement in sustainable home building, and it is assessed at 6 different levels, with level 6 (or code 6) being the highest.

You achieve these levels by meeting 9 different pieces of criteria, and each piece of criteria is then combines to give you an overall score showing your homes overall impact on the environment. Level 6 is the highest level that you can attain for this overall score, it shows an exemplary development in terms of sustainability.

The 9 pieces of criteria categories are as follows:

  • Energy and CO2 emissions – operational energy and emissions of CO2.
  • Water -Both external and internal water saving measures.
  • Materials – Sourcing and environmental impact of materials used to build the development.
  • Surface water run-off – Management of surface water run-off from the development and the flood risk.
  • Waste – Showing storage for recyclable waste and compost, and care taken to reduce, reuse and recycle construction materials.
  • Pollution – The use of insulation and heating systems which don’t add to global warming.
  • Health and well-being – Good daylight quality, sound insulation, private space, accessibility and adaptability.
  • Management – A home user guide, designing in security and reducing the impact of construction.
  • Ecology – Protection and enhancement of the ecology of the area and efficient use of building land.

It all sounds rather expensive doesn’t it?

There are simple and inexpensive ways to gain credits towards each piece of criteria, for example; you could specify compost and recycling bins (it may sound too simple, but it can count towards the overall score). But as with everything, there are cheaper methods, like installing solar photovoltaic panels.

Currently, compliance with the higher levels of this code is voluntary as it is more expensive to reach. Some landowners and estate agents are selling sites with an agreement made with the buyer to make the buildings there reach a certain level of the code. To comply with each assessment criteria at certain levels, your DER (Dwelling Emission Rate) should be lower than the TER (Target Emission Rate), each level had a different minimum requirement TER.

This scheme puts zero carbon development at the top of industry agenda by the Association for Environmental Concious Building. Even if there was a zero carbon building, it would only reach level 1, which is the lowest level of the scheme assessment. This is because it is only reaching a high level of one piece of criteria, so to reach a higher level, the owner(s) of the building would need to look at improving on some or all of the other 8 pieces of criteria.

Some aspects of the assessment are restricted to the public this is so that the individual doesn’t have access to the information needed to calculate data and pass the code themselves. This information is kept by the CSH (Code for Sustainable Homes) to be used by paying customers. By doing this, the CSH are not only making sure that developers reach a certain standard when building homes, they’re also making sure that developers pay for the CSH standards by restricting the information.

Written by Jade Turney – Building Tectonics Ltd.

Energy efficient with the NEF

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We could all become more energy efficient through a number of strategies including government introduced incentives and grants as well as the low carbon technology within the home, one such incentive based strategy is the Feed in Tariff and Renewable Heat Incentive.

The National Energy Foundation is an independent, national charity based in Milton Keynes. It has been at the forefront of improving the use of energy in buildings since 1988. It aims to give people, organisations and government the knowledge, support and inspiration they need to understand and improve energy in buildings.

We had a meeting with the  National Energy Foundation today. They are interested in talking to architects and architectural designers in particular, so that they can incorporate some of these energy efficient systems into the designs on projects, and save their clients money in the long run generally as well as putting themselves in a position to give better advice to their clients.

We are hopeful that this organisation will advise us on individual jobs in order to put us in a better position to give our clients reliable advice on energy conservation. Our director Tony Keller is very interested in finding ways of upgrading energy efficiency in the home. We are also interested in how to conserve energy in our businesses as well as in the home, we could all be saving a lot of money through being more energy efficient.

There is also a government initiative which is designed to help business and home owners to employ more green technologies within their properties called the ‘Green Deal’. This works by you installing new green technology into your property with no up front costs involved. You pay back the costs through your energy bill over time, but it’s not like a loan as the the bill stays with the property if you move out, it doesn’t follow you.

A lot of our work comes from people wanting to extend their homes and we want to be in a position to advise them as best we can.  As architectural designers, we welcome very much the chance to benefit from the vast expertise that the NEF has to offer and the best ways in which to incorporate energy efficiency measures in our design work of domestic extensions and new house designs.

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Written by Jade Turney – Building Tectonics Ltd.

Making your house more energy efficient

One of the really tangible benefits of extending your house, whether its upwards (a loft conversion) or outwards (extending the building) is that the new building envelope has to be really well insulated.

A new wall is about six times more efficient than an old Victorian wall for instance. A new insulated roof can be thirteen times more efficient than an old Victorian roof. By wrapping new building around the old building effectively wraps the house with insulation. Of course you can seldom take the extension all the way round and so some clever remedial tricks should be employed to improve the insulation of the old exposed walls. It can make a dramatic difference to an old building.

Building Tectonics can advice on this and other related matters.

building-tectonics.co.uk   01908 366000

Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics Ltd.