Back to basics – an introduction to sustainability

Amid all the excitement about the emerging technologies designed to reduce our impact on climate change, it is important not to forget the basics. Before considering installing any new sustainable heating or cooling technologies, we must look at first reducing the demand for heating and cooling in our occupied spaces and cutting energy consumption by conventional means.

The new Building Regulations have been designed to ensure that building services professionals address the airtightness and insulation levels of buildings; how the energy consuming systems are controlled and what basic improvements can be made to existing systems including things like fitting thermostatic radiator valves and replacing old hot water cylinders.

Recommission first
We must first look at recommissioning what we already have before even thinking about adding new technologies.

The temperature inside our buildings has risen steadily since the advent of central heating. In 1970 the average temperature in a UK house was 13degC. Today it is 18degC, and that extra five degrees takes around 50% more energy to achieve.
Cavity wall and loft insulation, lagging pipes and double and triple glazing all dramatically reduce the need for space heating. Around a third of all the heat produced in British homes is lost through the walls and roof including 70% of the heat from radiators, which goes straight out through the wall. 

The DTI calculates that loft insulation could cut our carbon emissions by 1.2 million tonnes and offers a great payback to the homeowner of less than two years – considerably quicker than many renewable technologies. 

British Gas calculates that installing 250mm of loft and cavity wall insulation in an un-insulated three bedroom semi-detached property with gas central heating would cut the householders annual energy bill by £239. The participating councils are offering either £50 or £100 rebates on top of this.

The same principles apply to commercial buildings, although the methods of achieving the results may require different measures.

The message in both domestic and commercial buildings is, however, look at the basics first to make sure you get the full benefit of any retrofitted renewable system.