As the Climate Change summit gets into its stride in Paris, it’s clear to see that the appetite for creating more sustainable global communities is growing. Which, in essence, means making better and more considered use of the resources we have and reducing waste.
Up and down the UK, evidence of investment in renewable technologies like photo-voltaic panels, wind farms and ground source heat pumps can be witnessed, and the government has made various grants available for home-owners willing to make their properties ‘greener’. But, while any and all attempts to improve the efficiency of our current housing stock have to be applauded, it’s more important than ever that we take a more fundamental approach to establishing a higher bar for new buildings – addressing the ‘first principles’ that will enable us to create standards that are met through the judicious use of the right materials and thoughtful design.
Trouble is, that the construction industry is slow to change and cost is a driving factor in many cases, which leads developers to stick to the path most travelled. Minimum insulation requirements become the norm, rather than a jumping-off point and there’s little incentive for builders to add to their baseline costs by working to higher specifications. And yet, if we are to cut our energy consumption to the extent that it will make a difference for all our futures, we need to be much more ambitious.
The eco-house concept currently occupies a niche market, available only to those with money. But with energy prices on a permanently upward spiral and the increasing availability of innovative building materials and technologies, surely it’s only a matter of time – and national political will – before more stringent building standards become the norm? The support of large developers is essential for raising the profile of sustainable homes. Policymakers are generally nervous about meddling with new standards for fear they will hamper an already treacle-paced housing programme, but it’s important that we move forward – not just tread water. And, as sustainable designs become commonplace, prices will, in turn, be driven down.
A building that is poorly designed and/or poorly built will not last long and will ultimately need replacing, using huge amounts of embodied energy in the demolition process, landfill and in the production of the building materials for the replacement building. A well-designed building, constructed with quality, durable materials might just be more sustainable than short-fix developments built purely for profit with substandard materials. If we truly want to make a difference, we need to start at home.