Aug 26, 2013

Making Sustainability Mainstream

Sustainability needs to go mainstream. That’s the contention of Peter Bakker, former CEO of logistics company TNT and now president of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), in a recent interview with

Since its launch in December 2006, the Code for Sustainable Homes (CSH) system has provided an invaluable tool for contractors and house builders to benchmark their projects against, and set a precedent for continued sustainable development. CSH is setting the pathway for big changes in the way houses are being built in the UK and we’ve done our utmost to make sure everyone we work with to adheres to it.

We place sustainability at the core of what Stewart Milne Timber Systems does. Timber is about as sustainable as it gets, with the lowest embodied carbon of any commercially available building material. Indeed, to date, our significant investment in R&D has resulted in us being able to offer products that give our customers U-values as low as 0.10, air tightness down to 1.5, and thermal bridging of only 0.02.

I think it’s almost universally true that what is desirable and what is practical are not always conducive to one another. While sustainability is undoubtedly important to the industry, I think it’s important to recognise that cost is equally high on the industry agenda too. Working within these very real confines, we’ve made it a priority to be able to adapt to make houses that are energy efficient, but are also sought after and affordable.

Putting fabric first and specifying timber frame is one of the best ways of achieving this. As a result, we’ve seen a clear increase in timber frame applications from across the country. It’s central part of our construction ethos and something we advocate as being the best way for builders to adhere to CSH. With zero carbon targets on the horizon, this should be the approach that all house builders take when embarking on a new project. Our sustainable credentials, and the potential of fabric first to deliver, are no more apparent than in a project we recently completed in conjunction with housing associations in Preston, Lancashire.

In June 2012, we completed the Adelphi House development in the heart of Preston in a £1.23 million project. Working in partnership with Communities Gateway Association and Adactus Housing Association, our scheme consisted of 13 new family homes, ten of which were built to CSH level 3. The remaining three, built to CSH level 4, were a UK first, and part of a government backed research programme to develop low carbon, low energy homes, through advanced building materials.

The development was part of a UK-wide low carbon AIMC4 project which was created to research, design, and deliver exemplar homes to meet the CSH level 4 using a fabric-first approach. The three CSH Level 4 (Energy) units at Adelphi House are the only AIMC4 homes to be constructed as part of a social housing development, and were a unique part of the project.

The ten CSH level 3 units were built using solar thermal heating for renewable energy generation and the three CSH level 4 homes were built using a fabric first approach. The CSH level 4 three-bedroom units were built using Stewart Milne Timber Systems’ Sigma® OP4 Build System, an open panel build system solution which allowed for greater energy efficiency in the buildings. Our Sigma Open Panel range can achieve U-Values of between 0.44 and 0.12 W/m2/k with air tightness below 3 & thermal bridging as low as 0.03.

The energy performance of the buildings was achieved primarily through the external envelope without reliance on additional renewable technologies – making the homes more affordable, practical and easy to maintain. The project has essentially ‘future-proofed’ their designs, ensuring they are still applicable as higher standards are introduced and energy technologies are developed in the future.

Minimising the demand for energy and ensuring that energy usage is as efficient as possible are essential as a first phase to reducing carbon emissions. Improving the energy efficiency of the building through the fabric can be achieved through improved insulation; reduction of thermal bridging and heat loss; improved air tightness; timber frame construction, and enhanced construction performance.

Originally due for completion in September 2012, the project was finished almost three months ahead of schedule, in June. This was achieved because of the faster build programme afforded by timber systems and the amount of offsite fabrication it allowed. The foundations were laid on site in February 2012, the timber kit went up early April and the houses were complete by mid-June, almost three months ahead of schedule.

We like to think the Adelphi House development is an important waypoint on the journey to creating a zero carbon standard across the housing board. It almost goes without saying that zero carbon targets are on the way in the not too distant future. That’s why it’s important to think now about how homes can be made more sustainable, more energy efficient, and easy to maintain now.

Mr Bakker was right when he said we need to make sustainability the mainstream. In my opinion, Adelphi House demonstrates why making Fabric First the mainstream approach to building is an intrinsic aspect of doing this while making sure cost and desirability remain important factors in the process. 

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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