In 2009 buildings accounted for about 43% of all the UK’s carbon emissions, leading to a concerted effort to bring in regulation aimed at making construction, and the built environment, more sustainable. Recent legislation has impacted on energy efficiency in both construction materials and the construction process itself, energy efficiency and sustainable waste management. Green construction has been rewarded with tax breaks, and new housing developments need to strive to be carbon neutral. The technologies and practices around better energy management affect all of us, so we thought we would outline the case for sustainable design, both in terms of costs and benefits.
In the short term, the materials can cost more, but sustainable design is about the long term. Good sustainable design offers economic, environmental and societal benefits. A planted or “green” roof, for example, can have significant economic benefits, by lowering the roof temperature and thereby reducing the amount of cooling tonnage needed, and even lowering costs for neighbouring buildings. A planted roof can reduce the environmental impact of a building, by reducing pollution from the building’s power usage, as well as reducing the city’s heat island effect. Another environmental benefit of planted roofs is reduced storm water runoff, while also encouraging biodiversity. Finally, societal benefits include physically and aesthetically pleasing effects for building occupants and neighbours, and jobs in the installation and maintenance of the planted roofs.
Holistic, integrated planning
On the actual construction side, careful building techniques can reduce the amount of construction waste that reaches landfills by 95% or more. Re-use of existing structures can reduce resource consumption while preserving our country’s heritage. Careful siting can make buildings perform better from both environmental and human perspectives: proximity to transportation reduces pollution and improves occupants’ quality of life. The key is holistic, integrated consideration of all the factors that influence building, including consideration of the decision of whether to build at all. Meanwhile, a combined heating and cooling system (CHP) has numerous financial benefits – energy efficiency of over 80%, with operators typically saving around 20% on energy bills and up to 30% on carbon emissions. Transmission and distribution losses are reduced, and fuel supply security is increased.
Best value for the tax payer
But what about the day to day costs? It has been shown that high-performing green buildings provide the best value for the taxpayer and for the public through both life cycle cost benefits and positive effects on human health and performance. A recent study of green federal buildings in the USA showed energy use is down 26% and occupant satisfaction up 27%, compared to commercial office benchmark data. More importantly, the top third of studied buildings, which use an integrated design approach, deliver significantly better results with 45% less energy consumption, 53% lower maintenance costs, and 39% less water use. Operating costs for green buildings are on average 8 to 9% lower, building values are 7.5% higher, buildings have a 3.5% greater occupancy ratio, and green buildings provide a 6.6% total return on investment.
Here at PRO Structures we are keen to incorporate green design wherever possible, and are familiar with the techniques and legislation in place. Please see our case study on Shipley Road – whose roof construction phase is pictured above – for a flavour of what we can achieve!