Dec 19, 2014

Why sustainable construction is here to stay

By Alex Goodfellow, Group Managing Director, Stewart Milne Timber Systems.

Sustainability has arguably never been more important to the construction sector, where environmental impact and national capacity are high on the agenda.

Carbon zero target deadlines are looming, and at the recent Homes 2014 event communities’ secretary Eric Pickles’ championed the use of incentives to encourage offsite construction, while challenging companies to encourage accelerated growth in this sector.

This momentum has led to an increased awareness of alternative methods of building as part of the national drive to reduce carbon emissions. Positively, in my view, this has led to the industry embracing sustainable practices – in particular the use of offsite manufacture and timber build systems.

Where’s the evidence? We recently started work at North West Bicester, the first of four of the UK Government’s eco towns.

A sustainable community

Developed by A2 Dominion to achieve high standards of environmental sustainability, it’s a prestigious project that we’re proud to be involved with. Stewart Milne Timber Systems will supply our award winning Sigma II Build System for 93 homes as part of phase one, which will consist of homes which achieve CSH Level 5. This stage of the project is part of the exemplar phase of 393 homes, with potential of up to 6,000 homes over the next 20-30 years.

The development is the first eco-town to adhere to the UK Government’s original Eco Town Policy Planning Statement and is designed to encourage low carbon living as well as fostering sustainable communities. Among the notable aspects of the project: very high performance  building fabric, offsite manufacture of materials enables a cost effective and faster speed of build, photovoltaic panels on roofs, rainwater harvesting, high spec landscaping, and with a community feel built into the basic place making design.

Every house will also be heated from a central energy plant meaning no homes require internal boilers. A communal car scheme and hi-tech in-home display of real-time public transport information will further encourage residents to lessen their impact on the environment.

Different from the ground up

Designed with the end result of low carbon and energy efficient living in mind, this development represents the future of construction if our industry is to survive the current threats of rising energy, labour, and material costs.

Taking a fabric first approach and using sustainable materials such as timber frame can produce energy efficient buildings both quickly and cost effectively.  By designing a building as one integrated system, the requirement for additional fittings and equipment – such as heating or ventilation systems – is often reduced.

The materials used are sourced from sustainably managed supplies, meaning no materials shortages and more stable prices. With a number of the buildings’ components manufactured offsite, less people and equipment are needed on site, streamlining the build process while saving additional labour costs. Meanwhile with houses wind and watertight in a matter of days the speed of build means that periods of bad weather are less likely to disrupt construction – which is particularly useful in the UK, especially in the winter months.

A more streamlined and flexible industry

This is the kind of approach that we expect to see become the norm. Energy efficiency and carbon emissions reduction is important to protect both the natural and built environments.  Research has shown, and continues to uncover, the multiple benefits of ‘green building’ for human health, the environment, and the economy. Another bonus is the development of new skills and construction techniques. These are likely to expand as the industry changes, with new ways of doing things likely to allow the continued evolution of the sustainable construction industry.

And the movement we are seeing is a trend, not some short-lived fad. Commercial buildings with ‘green’ features are able to command higher rents, while the popularity of initiatives such as North West Bicester are demonstrating the real demand for high quality, environmentally friendly developments.

Homes For Scotland Home Builders Federation National House-Building Council Royal Institute of British Architects Structural Timber Association Constructionline British Board of Agrement Wood Campus Build Off Site Building Research Establishment WOOD FOR GOOD

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