Zero Carbon(2016) Exemption Proposals

The plan to exempt small sites from zero-carbon legislation strikes me as being a total waste of time, energy and money and I cannot fathom why DCLG are wasting their precious time (and mine if it comes to that) with it.

The consultation document can be read here. The main elements are
– The proposal is to exempt small sites from the Allowable Solutions element of the Zero Carbon(2016) proposals. That is, the CO2 offset payment for that CO2 not mitigated on site by the development multiplied by 30 years multiplied by the agreed cost of CO2 per tonne.
– The consultation seeks views on the proposals including
The definition of small sites
Whether the exemption should relate to developers who are small or to any developer developing small sites
Whether the exemption should relate to Allowable Solutions only or whether the exemption should relate to Carbon Compliance as well
How long a time-frame the exemption should last for.

The problem I have with this is: where is the evidence that this is going to promote development? I haven’t seen any. Figures from the consultation document point out that 10% of planning applications in the UK measured by unit number were for single dwellings. That amounted to 24,000 units. So that tells me that there is a lot of activity in this sector and we can expect that to continue.
The Allowable Solutions impact of about £2-3k per plot will act as a small disincentive to development, but since many of those applications (my conjecture) are for the people who will actually live in those homes, the additional costs can be weighed against a lower cost of living for the occupants. The savings in fuel bills over the lifetime of the dwelling will pay for the relatively small additional cost. This is a calculation that many people will be able to do, and probably will realise that if they increase the build specification slightly they will reduce the Allowable Solutions costs and save themselves even more money. This seems to me to be a virtuous circle. People build more efficient homes for themselves, and they save money over and lifetime and there is less CO2 produced. This sounds like a market actually working. So why does the Government think that this is a market they need to interfere in before they actually have it in place?
The likely time frame would be from 2016 until the next issue of the Building Regulations, around 2020. This would allow the costs of the Zero Carbon (2016) to drop and the costs of Allowable Solutions to be absorbed. Again this seems to me to be counter productive. The way to reduce the costs of the Zero Carbon (2016) standard is to have everyone use it as soon as possible. This will bring down the cost of the insulation and window products that are needed to reach the standard, and then they will be available to all and not just the large housebuilders with very cost-effective supply chains. This proposal risks creating a two tier industry with higher costs of smaller builders and lower costs to larger builders.
The problem lies with the speculative nature of so much of our housebuilding. The builder of some of these small plots doesn’t know who the buyer has, and therefore has no interest in how that buyer lives in the home. There is no way for the lower costs of living in a more efficient home to be passed on to the developer in a beneficial way. A developer cannot build a more efficient home and offer it on the market for a small premium, this benefit is simply not recognised in the valuation of a property.
So, can I suggest that a more effective way for the Department to spend its time and mine, would be to investigate ways of making the speculative housing market function as a better market instead of trying to undermine those elements of future legislation that are likely to help it to function as a better market. But in an election year, perhaps that is too much to hope for.

Labour’s Green Paper on Energy Efficiency

The Labour party published a Green Paper on their energy efficiency policy entitled ‘An end to cold homes’ last week. There are several key elements in it that are worthy of attention, and it is a useful starting point for what the next Government should consider as priority actions.

The headlines are:

  • Provide half a million home energy reports for householders, mainly aimed at those in fuel poverty to help them realise what the problem is and how they could solve it.
  • Offer free energy efficiency improvements for 200,000 households at risk of fuel poverty per year, with an ambition to improve all 4million homes within 15 years.
  • Set a new target for the private rental sector of a minimum EPC Band C by 2027, increasing the current target for 2018 of Band E
  • Set Energy Efficiency as a national infrastructure priority under the proposed National Infrastructure Commission
  • Streamline regulations and introduce long term strategy to support investment in energy efficiency in non-domestic buildings
  • Less related to energy efficiency policy, but important nonetheless was a commitment to review the zero carbon policy and revert to the Zero Carbon Hubs original definition of Zero being including all unregulated energy and regulated energy in the definition.

My impression of the launch was very positive. The language was reassuring, there was an acknowledgement that Government in general has failed with the Green Deal to either understand the market or to understand the best way of delivering measures to households.

The strongest evidence of this was the statement that we still have

- 4.7million uninsulated cavity walls

- 10 million lofts that could have more insulation added

- 7 million uninsulated solid walls

- 8 million homes without a thermostat

The summary of fuel poverty in the paper is sometimes startling. The poor are often housed in poor buildings, making them cold and poorer. If we as a society think that it is important to give our poorest members a home to live in, isn’t it equally important that we give them a warm home to live in so that they are not spending an above average proportion of their low income on keeping warm?

30% of people living in Band G properties are fuel poor, in total there are over 2.2million households falling in this defined category in England, and another 1 million between Wales and Scotland.

Comment: Energy companies are not the best people to deliver these measures, in one case energy companies spent £50 to pay people to find other people to receive free energy efficiency measure under the Warm Front scheme. There is no available cost data from these schemes to help decide which ones were cost effective and which ones weren’t. (The giving away of energy efficient light bulbs springs to mind). I am equally concerned that Energy companies have bought a number of external wall insulation companies to install these measures. The blind leading the blind.

Green Deal/ECO

The Green Deal has been an expensive waste of time for the companies who engaged in it. It is set to deliver 4,000 improvements out of 355,000 households assessed. That’s about a 1% rate of return. The taxpayer paid for 90% of the assessments. A very poor use of money, and if we want to tackle energy efficiency improvements in a serious way, this isn’t going to do it. The interest payments are simply too high, they have always been too high, the Government was told that they were too high, I won’t go on.

A recent survey by the CBI demonstrates that only 5 percent of businesses considered that the Governments current policy framework is effective in encouraging investment in energy efficiency.

The non-domestic Green Deal has had 63 assessment carried out so far, and no measures delivered.

Labour’s solution to this is to offer interest-free loans to households to carry out energy efficiency improvements. This will be funded out of energy efficiency levies from energy companies and backed by a Government guarantee of the Green Deal Finance Company.

All the ECO funding will be aimed at low-income households in cold homes and who are at risk of fuel poverty.

The measures will be delivered by area-based organisations instead of by the Energy Companies. Local Authorities, Housing Associations, local energy organisations and other trusted partners.

Instead of funding single energy efficiency measures as the current ECO does, the new target would aim to improve properties to Band C. This would significantly improve the property, reduce the risk of fuel poverty significantly and would mean that it would not be necessary to return to this property for a generation.

Comment: I could never understand why DECC refused to understand this point in the past, despite being told it by practically everyone in the industry. The preliminary costs of doing work are always a substantial element of the total cost of refurbishment works, so if you set out to do work on a property, you should do as much as possible while you are there, to reduce the wasted costs of returning to the same property a decade later to install another separate measure. I think that politicians should shoulder a lot of the blame for this as they are always interested in reaching as large a number of households with the smallest sum of money, to win votes and keep themselves in power. But single-measure works is just a waste of taxpayers’ money. If Labour get into power and implement these policies it will be interesting to see if this intention remains.

Private Rented Sector

The idea to raise the target for PRS properties to Band C by 2027 got some headlines as it was initially suggested that the target to achieve Band E by 2018 would be dropped. This was swiftly denied by the party and this new target is a demonstration of a long-term strategy aimed at giving landlords and the industry long term certainty of the direction of travel for policy.

Zero Carbon

The announcement that the definition of zero carbon for new homes would revert to the original definition is interesting. The definition of zero carbon has had an unfortunate history, and became a political football during the early days of the current administration. The exemption for small sites is not to be taken forward by Labour, and extensions to existing properties will have to meet full building regulations.

Comment: It makes sense to revert to the original definition of zero carbon, but given that we are where we are and we have no final policy or regulation for Allowable Solutions, then it may be wise to continue to use the current definition of zero-carbon (regulated energy only) for the next round of regulations in 2016, and then ramp up successive regulations to take account of unregulated energy.

World Sustainable Building 2014 (Barcelona)

The Summary:

This was an enormous conference with a concentration of expertise on sustainable buildings unlike any other conference I have attended. The messages from the conference were many, including the following which particularly struck me:

- we have too many different approaches to sustainable buildings across the EU, we need to coordinate approaches to make training and cooperation easier, this does not mean simplify! But there are some elements of different approaches that can be standardised to give a stronger platform for the other areas that need development. For example operational energy calculations could be standardised, but embodied energy tools are too early in their development to do this yet.

- our approaches to sustaianbility are often impenetrable to people outside the confines of specialisms. A result of this is that around 1% of the new buildings in Europe are given a sustainability rating at all. We need to make our language and approaches more comprehensible to the end user and to the market.

- LCA in particular is complex and time consuming, and the results are not always useable. We look forward to the wide use of EPD’s.


The Detail

This was my first visit to this conference, there were 1400 delegates  from around the world, many from Spain, a lot from the EU, but also from Hong Kong, China, India, Korea, the US and many more. I was mainly there to attend a meeting of the ActiveHouse Alliance. This is a pan-European alliance of companies and organisations working towards a better definition of sustainable buildings using Comfort, Energy and Environmental scores as a rating system. I am on the Board Advisory Committee which means that I am helping to guide the direction of the standard, having beein involved in the design of the first two homes constructed to meet the standard in the UK.

The conference spanned three days, I attended for the first two.

On the first day we held the ActiveHoues BAC meeting and on the morning of the second day we held an ActiveHouse Symposium, bringing together some of the research that came from the first completed projects across the EU. The sessions included observers and commentators as well as presentations from the projects themselves. I summarise here some of the comments and ideas that struck me particularly, these only represent a tiny fraction of the ideas presented, and the sessions I attended on the two days only represented one sixteenth of the sessions available!

ActiveHouse Symposium

From the ActiveHouse Symposium one particular comment that has stayed with me from this session is from Nils Larsson from IISBE, Canada, who said that ‘individual family homes cannot be described as ‘sustainable’, because a single dwelling cannot cover the breadth of the idea of sustainability. A single family home can be described as ‘energy efficient’ or ‘low energy’ but not ‘sustainable’’. I broadly agree with this, but I think that a single family dwelling can support ‘sustainability’ or ‘promote’ it but it cannot achieve it on its own.

Prof. Dr. Berndt Wegener from Humboldt University of Berlin, spoke about well-being from the perspective of a social scientist. He declared that the factors that lead to well-being can be measured,, but that they cannot be prescribed in advance. We cannot say that by doing ‘x’ we will definitely have ‘y’ benefits in terms of well-being. Pete Halshall, from the Good Homes Alliance, noted that feedback from residents shows that social tenants sometimes feel less ‘well-being’ than private tenants in the same building. There are other factors to well-being than those catered for by the built environment.

Stefan Haglind of Skanska wondered whether we should talk less about our impact on Nature, and more about Natures beneficial impact on us. If we understood better the effect on our sense of well-being and on our productivity of having better daylight, a nice view, comfortable temperatures and control over our environment, we would design better buildings and find it less difficult to have arguments about whether to adopt ‘green design’ or not. Studies, including the recent World Green Building Council report, show that there are considerable financial benefits to productivity from all of these features of well-designed green buildings that far outweigh the cost savings of lower energy use. I agree that we should emphasise the positive impacts of Nature, but I wouldn’t want to remove focus away from the catastrophic damage to our biodiversity.

Stefan pointed out that, for workplace productivity, the benefits from green buildings tend to be worth 100 times the value of energy savings. I wonder if there is a similar metric for the homes we live in? I can see a straightforward connection through home-working, our productivity at home is worth even more to an employer since the workplace is usually given for nothing. We can extend this benefit to the health service if we say that the home either promotes better health by being well-designed, or being sufficiently adaptable to enable residents to recover, or to be cared for, at home rather than requiring an expensive hospital bed.

Renata Hammer and Peter Holzer from Vienna provided some useful feedback from a small project where they had used the ActiveHouse tools for a small project with a private client. Their comments included:

-using primary energy as an indicator suggests that PV can compensate for other failings, and while this may be true for energy, it is not true for other environmental impacts. In this particular situation PV was inappropriate due to the heritage nature of the surroundings, and there was a lot of overshadowing, so in some situations this compensation is not even available.

-carrying out LifeCycle Assessments is a nightmarish process, and expensive in terms of the time taken to do so. (This was a recurring theme in the conference, with some speakers hoping that a production of many EPD’s over the next couple of years leading to a much easier set of data for designers and less technical people to use in their decision-making)


New Envelopes for Zero Energy Buildings

In a later session on ‘New Envelopers for Zero Energy Buildings’ there was a series of investigations into the LCA’s of different wall types. Erin Moore made some interesting points about the embodied energy of our buildings:

-that our current understanding of the relative amounts of embodied energy in our buildings is limited. Some studies put the amount of embodied energy as high as 50%, or as low as 10% of the total CO2 emissions of the building over its lifetime. She noted that the definition of ‘lifetime’ makes a big difference to the calculation, and that this figures varies widely around the world’.

-that the mitigation of emissions from embodied energy is more difficult than it appears. For example, can we claim that the embodied CO2 emissions from a home in the UK can be mitigated by putting PV on the roof? If the original emissions were from a country with a higher CO2 factor in the Grid, or if the original emissions were partially in China, how can we mitigate the damage in the UK? If some of the impacts are not CO2 related, but relate to a biodiversity loss, how can we deal with this where materials move from country to country?




Building on the Green Belt

Paul Cheshire of the London School of Economics came to HTA last month and presented his thoughts on Building on the Green Belt. It was at once appalling and fascinating. I think it is worthwhile to explore ideas that are superficially appalling to analyse why they affect us in this way and whether our sensitivity to them is real or something we have learned without really absorbing the rationale behind it. The history of civilisation is full of bad ideas that were once held to be good ideas but which we now find appalling. By we, I largely mean Western civilisation. By bad ideas I mean racism, fascism, UKIP, factory farming…those sorts of ideas. What seems obvious to one generation can often appal the next one. Think about 70’s fashion!

Building on the Green Belt(BoGB) has come to attract the same strong reactions as some of those ideas above, whether one is for or against, there is no real middle ground. The cause against BoGB is is largely emotional and visceral, its ‘green’ land, the reasoning goes, so it must be nice, its surely full of woodland and trees, it harbours the last vestige of medieval connectivity with the ‘land’ that feeds us. We will all choke to death on the fumes of cars and buildings if we allow this to continue, etc., etc.,We are carpeting over England’s green and pleasant land and we mustn’t allow it to continue, or even think about allowing it to continue. Is any of this true?

The problem with all of this is that there is enough truth in it to make it believable to the average voter, and therefore completely toxic to our current crop of rather spineless politicians. Were BoGB to happen it will inevitably destroy some areas of land that have some ecological value, and will inevitably carpet over some of the ‘green and pleasant’ land. But the argument is more complex than this. By not BoGB we are curtailing the supply of land for housing in a way that was not envisaged when the legislation was enacted. We are in a period of chronic under-supply of homes and young people have little chance of getting an affordable home to live in unless we act to increase supply. London in particular is being constrained to the point where housing ownership is becoming impossible for young people on a normal wage.

To change the housing market we need to be building many more homes that we are currently building, this appears to be generally accepted. Some of these can be delivered in dense new apartment developments close to jobs in city centres. But high density development is slow to bring through the planning system and often controversial. On its own it won’t be enough.

I dislike the idea of BoGB as much, and possibly more than most, I prefer to design dense environments for people to live in, as I believe that high density living brings with it high-quality services. If I had my way we would all live in terraces or apartments and the suburban semi would be banned. Fortunately there are a lot of people who disagree with me and who want to live in the suburbs in a semi and they should have what they want. Shouldn’t they? Is owning an environmentally damaging house with four cars and garden in the suburbs an ‘inalienable human right’ or should it be classified as something that previous generations longed for and could afford, but which we cannot? Do we recognise that the costs of allowing everyone to own their own patch of grass two hours commute from where they work is neither good for them nor good for society as a whole?

To look at the figures dispassionately, 13% of land in the UK is Green Belt land. have produced a nice map illustrating the many designations of land used in England to prevent development. Their research demonstrates that we have built on approximately 10% of our land, leaving the remaining 90%, much of which is unavailable for development. The illustration of Green Belts around the main population centres demonstrates that they are doing their job of curtailing the growth of those centres, and putting pressure on nearby smaller towns to grow instead.

Unfortunately this land use planning strategy is not matched by an economic strategy that is helping to create jobs in those smaller towns. The result is a working population in the cities that must commute long distances to work and puts increasing pressure on the transport system. See here for statistics showing that a decade ago about one third of London’s working population commuted into London. One of the results of this has been the construction of more roads through the Green Belt, which has further degraded it, on top of the highly industrialised agriculture practised in most of the Green Belt which has denuded it of trees and wildlife. It may be green in colour, but much of it is grey in environmental terms, ecologically poor, with sparse areas of ecology poisoned by pesticides and curtailed by the machinery of the supermarket supply chain. Is it really worth protecting? Are we being realistic by calling it the Green Belt? Are we using the right yardstick to measure it against? Should we call it an Environmental Zone or Green Zone instead.

The decades-old principle of home ownership will soon be at an end unless these conflicting strategies are resolved. Land use designations including the Green Belt have become an inconvenient sacred cow that is preventing our cities from expanding. Growth is being pushed out to smaller dormitory towns, and pushing up the price of land outside the Green Belts to levels where starter homes require subsidy to be affordable. The policies discussed in the recent round of conferences include subsidies for first time buyers is a direct result of a set of planning policies that limit the opportunities for development.

I suspect that the Green Belt could be made smaller, more environmentally beneficial, and much more meaningful in real terms by being ‘masterplanned’ and ‘activated’ more thoroughly. The reality is that most Green Belt land currently performs little useful function other than to curtail development. Given that our wildlife population continues to plummet, we cannot argue that Green Belts have fulfilled a function of protecting wildlife. To live up to its designation Green Belts need to be transformed into places where nature can thrive and also be enjoyed by the urban population they are intended to support. A series of Environmental Zones surrounding our cities which contain leisure activities as well as a proportion of responsible farming, new woodlands, wind turbines, biodiverse places rich in ecology and protected by future generations and bounded by dense high quality homes seems to me to engender the best of both worlds. The costs of these changes would be borne by the sale of a proportion of the land for new housing.

Since many of these areas are already well-served by public transport little new infrastructure would be needed. The existing infrastructure is currently under-used as these outlying areas have not been able to expand since the transport network was installed decades ago. By creating jobs in these locations we would also reduce the need for expansion in the transport network and balance the current concentration of jobs in the centres of our cities with a new set of suburban desirable locations for people to live and work. The Green Belt was a good idea and it has left us a legacy of potential that we can use, but on its own it is not enough to guarantee a positive future for our major cities.

Louis Kahn Exhibition at the Design Museum

Hurva Synagogue

Hurva Synagogue

The exhibition on Louis Kahn currently being held at the Design Museum, London, is worth seeing for all students of architecture, young and old. Kahn’s place in the panoply of modern architects is well deserved and this exhibition demonstrates why. Much of the material is familiar to anyone with an interest in his work, but the revelation for me is a series of large scale wood models of his work created by the Vitra Museum in 2012. These large-sale models, particularly of some of his unbuilt work, bring it to life in a new way. Models of the unbuilt section of the Salk Institute at La Jolla show the sophistication of that design in a way that drawings have never done, a design that presages the Government buildings at Dhaka many years later.

The full size model of the Fisher House window seat shows how Khan was able to manage the transition from the large scale down to the smallest scale in a way that few other architects have ever managed. This model illustrates a dwelling that was clearly humane and inhabitable in a way that few other architects have managed. Somehow Kahn was able to focus on the essentials of each of his projects without bringing his ego to the table. A quality sadly lacking in the work of many of our modern ‘starchitects’ who appear to be lauded for bringing their egos to the table to the exclusion of anything else.
Fisher House Window (Vitra Museum model)

Fisher House Window (Vitra Museum model)

Kahn’s particular philosophy , which can seem so obtruse and difficult at a casual reading, was sophisticated enough to guide him towards the creation of buildings places that are both humane and monumental. His buildings are effortless looking because he cared about the mechanics of construction and was prepared to use low or high tech materials where each was relevant. His interiors are beautiful because he cared deeply about how to illuminate them with daylight, the most precious commodity for an architect, and he wanted people to delight in occupying them and not just find them useful.
His design for the City Tower in Philadelphia, an unbuilt project, showed how radical he could be when he decided to expore structure. This tower, based on a space frame structure in the heady days of Buckminster Fuller, demonstrates that when architects follow an idea through to its logical conclusion it is possible to be both innovative and convincing. Fifty years later, nothing quite like this has been built.

Philadelphia City Tower (unbuilt) A three-dimensional space frame design that would be challenging to construct now, imagine how difficult this would have been in the 1950's.

Philadelphia City Tower (unbuilt) A three-dimensional space frame design that would be challenging to construct now, imagine how difficult this would have been in the 1950’s.

Finally, there is the Hurva Synagogue, and unbuilt project that demonstrates how he could take a design brief and extract a powerful, almost monumental building from it. It has more in common with Egyptian architecture from 3000BC than anything built since then. This apparently simple structure belies the sophistication of the ideas that have gone into it. Seeing it as a model brings home the power of the internal spaces and the imagined quality of the light that would have filtered through the gaps in this powerful structure. Like the Kimball Art Gallery he uses the structure to control the light into thin shafts that would have brought a magical quality to the interior spaces.

I continually find inspiration in Kahn’s work, go along to this and hopefully you will too.

Assessing Microclimate in Urban Environments

“People, life and vitality are the biggest attractions in a city. We see it in the choice of peoples seating, where the most populated benches are located, how people choose to sit on sidewalk cafes facing the people walking by rather than the buildings behind them.
The biggest quality of a sidewalk café is simply the interaction with other people. Do you have a choice between walking through a deserted, empty street and a street with other people walking, people will choose the liveliest street that provides them with more experiences, visual variety and a feeling of safety.” Jan Gehl 2002

This quotation from Jan Gehl, and many others like it, have brought home to the design professions how much we had moved away from a human-centric design philosophy to a building-centric and car-centric design philosophy for much of the 20th Century. Even now we are still living with many of the mistakes made in those decades, a car dominated lifestyle, buildings that don’t address the street, housing with high level access walkways, large highways that unsympathetically cut through historic urban fabric, the list is a long one.

Considering the human impact of buildings and the quality of spaces between them means that we should spend much more time considering, drawing and analysing these spaces than we previously did. The tools are now more available to analyse these spaces than ever before, now we just need to use them more often. Here are some examples of the tools available and where to use them.

1. One can use tools like IES to assess the Wind Microclimate between buildings. The tool uses historic weather data to predict the wind conditions between buildings by calculating how the shape of the buildings that are there already and that are in our proposals will affect the wind speeds throughout the year. This calculation is usually carried out at pedestrian level because that is where the pedestrians are, as well as at higher levels where people might sit on balconies or on roof terraces. The results are compared against the Lawson criteria for pedestrian comfort, a scale that compares the type of activity with the prevailing wind speed. Activities such as sitting outside cafes and window shopping are suggested to be best places where the Beaufort Level 3 ‘Gentle Breeze’ is not exceeded for more than 1% of the time in a simulation. It is a notable failing in the Lawson Criteria that it doesn’t adequately deal with cycling and ‘windiness’. Cycling and wind are are particular problem as this combination presents a risk to life where cyclists can be blown into traffic by sudden gusts of wind, a problem not normally faced by pedestrians. Any suggestions by readers as to what an appropriate criterion would be are welcome.

2. IES can also be used to assess the solar irradiation on roofs to highlight locations for renewable energy systems, helpful in determining whether some buildings overshade others or whether some roofs will get ehough solar insolaton to make it worthwhile putting renewable systems there art all.

3. One can use ENVI-met to carry out a similar assessment, but with the additional sophistication of assessing the impact of planting and street trees on the local environment.

4. We can use ECOTECT to evaluate the solar incidence on the facades of buildings to tell us whether the cafe will be in sunshine for long periods of the year and whether people will get too hot sitting there and whether we should provide an awning. Ecotect is useful for many other type of analysis as well, but its imagery for this type of use is particularly helpful.

5. We can use simple tools like SketchUp to look at shadows cast by our designs at a early stage to assess the impact of one design versus another by comparing the impact at the equinoxes and solstices. This is paricularly helpful as it can be done easily and quickly by the designer in the tool that they are woring on (assuming that they are using SketchUp for early stage designs) and gives them immedate feedback. The other tools used here are for more specialist use and are typically used by consultants who specialise in this type of analysis.

6. There is a substantial piece of work being carried out at MIT to develop a suite of tools for urban design analysis based on the Rhino modelling software. This suite is intended to include tools for early daylight, energy and embodied energy analysis. It is still a work in progress but highlights the level of ambition made possible by readily available computing power. An example of the progress to date is the DAYSIM engine used for modelling daylight in and around buildings.

These are just some examples of the tools available to investigate whether the spaces we are creating between and around our buildings are going to be fit for purpose and enjoyable to use. Here is an example from the Kings Cross masterplan of a very successful intervention, a set of sout-facing steps connecting to the canal. It was popular before the astroturf was added, being a sheltered and sunny place to sit and chat, drink a coffee or eat lunch, now it is both sunny, and more comfortable to sit on.


Sitting in the Sun

Sitting in the Sun: Kings Cross

Housing and Overheating


Dealing with overheating in UK housing and apartment design is quickly working its way up the list of priorities. I still have difficulty believing that DCLG decided to ignore this in the Housing Standards Review, but they did. Despite the Climate Change Committee report on Climate Change Adaptation stating that :

Many homes, hospitals and care homes are already
at risk of overheating. By the 2040s, half of all summers are expected to be as hot, or
hotter, than in 2003 when tens of thousands of people across Europe died prematurely.
A standard or requirement is needed in order to ensure new homes are built to take
account of the health risks of overheating now and in the future. Cost-effective passive
cooling measures should be adopted rather than relying on air conditioning, which will
be expensive and exacerbate the urban heat island effect.

But meanwhile, other, more responsible organisations are ploughing on regardless. The TSB ran a project called Designing for a future Climate and the outputs are here, for anyone interested in the topic, this is essential reading.

The Zero Carbon Hub have just kicked off a project to look at overheating specifically, and will report back early next year.

But what are practitioners to do now? What is a responsible approach?

I propose the following four steps.

1. Don’t use SAP

2. Carry out simulations, and choose the criteria carefully

3. Don’t believe everything simulations tell you

4. People will adapt, make the buildings ready for adaptation

The Detail


Firstly, lets agree that SAP is an inappropriate tool for providing the answer. Overheating will occur in fairly specific circumstances, caused by a complex mixture of factors and may only occur for a specific set of hours in a particular apartment. For example west facing apartments are likely to overheat in the evenings while east facing apartments in the same building may not overheat or overheat at different times of the day,  and the strategy for dealing with the problem is likely to be different from the east side to the west side. Overheating is elevation specific, not plan specific. SAP is not sophisticated enough to tell us when overheating is likely to happen in time, and therefore is unable to point towards useful strategies for dealing with it. There are a number of other tools on the market capable of analysing the problem such as IES and TAS. These are designed for the purpose and are much more appropriate for this use.

Secondly, we should be carrying out simulations on a regular basis of current apartment schemes to assess whether they overheat using current weather as a minimum, and preferably also assessing them with 2050 and 2080 weather predictions.

The standards to use for testing should be adaptive standards such as EN 15251 or CIBSE TM52 for buildings occupied by able and healthy individuals who will adapt to external temperature and who can control their environment, or who can go for a walk in the shade or go to the swimming pool on hot days.

For buildings where the occupants are young or old both of who have difficulty regulating temperature, and who may not be free or able to move to colder places or unable to close shutters, we should use the more risk averse CIBSE Guide A which sets a temperature level that must not be exceeded for a set number of hours per day.

Thirdly, lets agree that simulations are useful and necessary, but again are only guides to likely scenarios and are not facts. Here is a good illustration of the problems caused by taking simulations at face value.

Whilst working on a recent project we were presented with some analysis of overheating carried out by a well known and respected firm of engineers. Among other sensible suggestions they recommended reducing the size of the windows by 50% to reduce the likelihood of overheating by about 1% for the 2050 high emissions scenario. So, to explain, the suggestion was to reduce the area of glazing by 50% because simulations suggested that this reduced the likelihood of temperature in the apartment exceeding an agreed limit by 1% of the time the apartment was likely to be occupied. 1% of the occupied time for an apartment is about 1% of a year, so lets say 3.5 days in total. To reduce discomfort in 2050 for a three day period, the suggestion was to reduce the quality of life for the remaining 18,250 days. We won’t succeed in adapting to climate change by building buildings that no-one likes or wants to live in.

Fourthly, I believe that we will adapt both our behaviour and our ability to deal with warmer climates. The rate of change is slow enough for many species to migrate ahead of changing climate, so why can’t human beings adapt their behaviour too. Wearing different clothes, travelling at different times, closing shutters before going to work, having a siesta are all cheap ways of adapting to warmer climates. All of this makes simulation difficult. A simulation will assume that people in 205o will be cooking using the same equipment that we are using today, and it will assume that the heat gains from cooking will contribute to overheating. It is likely that people will change their cooking habits in warmer summers to avoid cooking at a time of the day when it contributes to overheating, but a simulation run using one of the currently available tools isn’t able to model changes of behaviour and lifestyle over time.

Our buildings need to be designed to accommodate shutters or blinds on the outside of buildings for those parts that are vulnerable to overheating. It may not be necessary to install them now, but it is likely to be necessary in the future, so design them in now. They are a familiar feature to anyone who has been to southern Europe and everyone understands how to use them immediately.

New Housing Quality Standards

There is a lot of discussion and movement currently on the topic of Housing Quality Standards. With the Housing Standards Review a lot of questions were asked by DCLG, but in truth, many of them went unanswered. The cessation of the Code for Sustainable Homes leaves a gap that is not going to be filled by Building Regulations because low carbon housing, even very low carbon housing, is not the same as high quality housing.

With the announcement of the London housing Zones, which will be developed to the mayors Standards, the question must be asked, what the Mayors standards are going to be, if the Code is not to continue?

Most of the issues contained in the Code are not moving to Building Regulations, and the ones that are are not going to be as demanding as the requirements of the Code. My view is that we need more demanding standards than Building Regulations to offer customers choices in the quality of home they want to buy, to encourage innovation in the supply chain, and to point the industry towards future changes in regulation. In the Housing Standards Review, space standards, overheating and daylighting were all mentioned, all of them are important, but none of them are currently regulated. Since the outcome of the HSR there has been a further announcement that ‘minor’ development may not be subject to Building Regulations 2016, and we await further detail.

So we are moving towards a situation where instead of one national standard, we will have two, one for major development and one for minor development, and where local Core Strategies will continue to call for development to meet the Code for Sustainable Homes since it is a very expensive process to change Core Strategies these will remain in place for some time to come. In London we appear to have a different view where the London Plan will remain in place and Code Level 4 will continue to provide a benchmark for new homes, probably because any viability argument against providing sustainable homes would be unconvincing.

The BRE has announced a consultation on the future of sustainability standards, and is suggesting the preparation of a new BREEAM standard for homes which would work in a similar way to other BREEAM standards. The consultation is open until the 25th July and I encourage you to submit a response.

The Housing forum is running a project called Mind The Gap which is trialling the idea of Performance Labelling for Homes. This is using BIM to produce a series of metrics about home performance characteristics, such as space, daylight, energy use, running costs. Could we create a market where house purchasers and tenants compared existing and new homes using the same benchmarks?

My view is that we need a much more ‘consumer’ focussed standard than the Code for Sustainable Homes ever was. The Code never became a part of the house purchasing story, many housebuilders who build Code homes never even attempted to use this as part of their marketing material. The Code was seen as an imposition that added cost but never as a benefit that added value. Any new standard must bridge this gap.

I am on the Technical Advisory Board of ActiveHouse, a pan-European effort to encourage the delivery of homes that are substantially higher quality than normal development but in terms that most home occupiers would understand: warmer, brighter, more spacious, healthier, cheaper to run. These are terms that any purchaser or future tenant can understand and we need to work together to develop a housing industry that speaks about and markets development in those terms, rather than focussing entirely on CO2 emissions which, though vitally important,  are baffling to the majority of people.

This week I spoke about this at the CIH annual conference in Manchester in a Kingspan sponsored event, together with Shelagh Grant of the Housing Forum and Martin Townsend of the BRE. The room agreed that we need standards that go beyond Building Regulations, and my belief is that these standards will only work if we in the industry create them for our customers. I will be hosting a series of workshops at HTA on this topic over the coming months, let me know if you want to be involved.

RIBAJ Sustainability Conference

I attended the RIBAJ Sustainability Conference at ARUP’s in Fitzroy Street on the 24th June and I thought that I would report back on the event.

It was a strong lineup of speakers, most of whom are well known in the sustainability world in the UK, a bit aimed more towards the commercial end of the market than the residential end, but it was all the more interesting for this.

Rab Bennets did a sterling job of chairing the event, including asking knowledgeable and interesting questions when the rest of us had run out of steam.

Lydia Dutton, environmental project manager at Argent, responsible for the environmental targets on the Kings Cross estate, gave us a fascinating insight into the attitudes of a large developer with a long-term view of place making.

Lynne Sullivan of Sustainable By Design talked about zero carbon and what it means, and how we have got to where we are. She compared UK 2016 standards to other EU standards to highlight that although we are making progress, others have either got there before us or are planning to go further than we are. Lynne makes the excellent point that we don’t appear to have a national energy strategy that is meshed with the buildings that we are designing. There is no effort aimed at community energy projects that ties regulation and planning, apart from in London, and even the one in London is not flexible enough to really work.

Richard Francis of Monomoy Company, talked about the productivity benefits of good quality buildings for employers and employees, and how those numbers will dwarf any benefits to be gained from energy savings measures. This seems to me to be at the heart of where the environmental movement needs to go next, to stop counting CO2 beans and to move on to counting benefits and added value.

Adrian Hewitt from Energence Ltd, talked about the difficulties of bean counting CO2 reductions from recent projects, how no one wants to go to the trouble of disclosing the actual numbers. This is preventing us from either gaining the benefits of knowing what is workeing well and what to copy, or what is failing and needs to be improved, with the result that we are probably not achieving the CO2 savings that we think we are as quickly as we need to.

Dr Sebastian MacMillan from the University of Cambridge  talked about how to ensure that we involve people in our projects, that without their involvement and engagement other efforts can easily be wasted.

Paul Scialla CEO of the Well Building Institute talked about the WELL standard, this is a standard that aims to deliver a healthy environemnt for people to work in that is currently being piloted in the US. Some of it sounds startlingly similar to the ActiveHouse Standard, perhaps these people should talk?

Ann Marie Aguilar and Martin Brown talked about the Living Building Challenge.  This is the most ambitious standard in the building industry, and only a handful of buildings in the world have met it. Martin explained that its appeal to him was that buildings that met this challenge were being positive in their environmental impact, providing energy, reusing materials, cleaning water, preventing waste. All of these were going much further than standards that aim to reduce or prevent, this one says that the building must be positive. Ann Marie explained how some of its elements are being explored on the Sky campus.

Chris Twinn of Twinn Sustainability Innovation showed us that if we allow the developing world to adopt LEED Platinum, their energy use will go up, and not down. We shouldn’t be exporting our standards to the developing world, we should be leapfrogging our out-of-date standards to gain the benefits of leaner IT and low energy tablets and LED lighting to cut our services in size, reduce our use of materials and question the models that regulation has given us. Throw away the rules of thumb and the notional building, and calculate the problem from first principles.

Bill Gething then frightened us all by demonstrating how hot it is likely to get in London in the next century, (when all our current buildings will still be in use). In the worst scenarios it could get up to 10 Deg C hotter in London before 2100. We need to design buildings that are resilient to a warmer climate, that can stay cool in those temperatures and that enable people to protect themselves from these impacts.

Polly Turton from ARUP pointed out that sustainability professionals and engineers are stronger together, by working in an integrated way, even between competitors, we can come up with the answers for our clients and for society. I couldn’t agree more.

Housing Zones

The announcement this week of the new Housing Zones is interesting and welcome, but what does it mean for the housing industry? Here is a summary of the proposals.

  • 20 Housing Zones will be created in the capital, aimed at delivering 50,000 new homes
  • Each Housing Zone should deliver at least 1000 homes mostly within the 2015-18 period
  • The Housing Zones will be backed by Mayoral powers to ‘smooth planning’
  • Local Authorities can bid for the zones which will attract funding from a £400m pot
  • 10 Housing Zones will be created elsewhere across the UK with Local Authorities bidding for a £200M pot
  • Bids for funding need to be made available through private sector companies such as developers or RHP’s, not local authorities themselves
  • The deadline for funding bids is the 30th of September 2014

All these Housing Zones will be on brownfield sites, and the funding will be focused on bringing forward schemes that are already well advanced.

Interestingly, given Nick Boles recent letter to Boris, complaining about how different London standards are from National Standards, and that London should get in line,  the announcement includes the following statement…

All new homes in Housing Zones will need to be built to high quality standards, with policy-compliant levels of environmental performance and the Mayor will expect them to conform to the London Housing Design Guide.

Good transport links are deemed a necessity for Housing Zones, either with good infrastructure already in place, or planned, or capable of being brought forward with funding assistance. Most Housing Zones are expected to be in Opportunity Areas

Planning powers such as Planning Performance Agreements, Compulsory Purchase Orders & Local Development Orders will be used to speed up the planning process.

It is anticipated that Private Rental Sector development will form a part of development in Housing Zones, as well as high levels of affordable homes and shared ownership are expected to be delivered. Homes for private sale will be expected to be marketed to London buyers primarily.

A London Housing Bank may assist in providing front funding for new development of sub market rent homes.

It is possible that the Mayor could buy the land using CPO powers and prepare the site for development, offering serviced plots to developers to build out. This is a model used in other European countries to fast track development on large scale brownfield land, such as in Malmo and Hammerby.

All in all this is a positive step and aims to enable London Boroughs to work with the GLA to accelerate the delivery of new housing on sites that can have or already have good transport links. The model has worked elsewhere so one has to wonder why it has taken so long for it to be used here?

It will be interesting to see whether the London Boroughs will follow political lines and work with the Mayor or not, and whether the same London Boroughs will work closely with Developers rather than Housing Associations.

What it does mean is that there will be substantially more development happening in the region in the years 2015-18 than would otherwise be the case, with at least 20,000 units being delivered through this mechanism. With the housing industry already struggling to meet current delivery targets and labour and skills shortages across the sector, there is a lot of work to be done in the background to accelerate training and recruitment across the sector to deliver these requirements.

The prospectus is less clear on the plans for Housing Zones outside London, with a statement that DCLG will publish a prospectus for this later in the year.