The elephant in the room that is building refurbishment

Published:  07 July, 2010

CIBSE, refurbishment, low carbon
Saving money and cutting carbon emissions — Hywel Davies.

It will not be possible to achieve the UK’s carbon-reduction targets without a serious campaign to refurbish existing buildings. Hywel Davies presents CIBSE’s perspective.

The 2008 Climate Change Act commits the UK to delivering a 34% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 and 80% by 2050. These are challenging targets, written into law.

The UK Low Carbon Transition Plan is clear that the implications of a low carbon economy impact every aspect of the construction industry. Paul Morrell, the Chief Construction Adviser, states that ‘over the next 40 years, the Low Carbon Transition Plan is virtually a business plan for construction’.

The UK builds only 1% of its building stock new every year, even in good times, so even if every new non-domestic building replaces an existing one, well over 66% of the 2050 building stock is already built.

Even if we delivered truly zero-carbon buildings from tomorrow, significant carbon emissions are locked in to the existing stock. To decarbonise our building stock, we must refurbish it. That is why CIBSE, in its recent ‘key issues’ paper, says, ‘Tackling our existing building stock is essential if we are to deliver a working low-carbon built environment and meet the targets set by climate change policy and regulation. One of the key goals of CIBSE is to make increased levels of information available to the industry about how to refurbish buildings efficiently. We believe that the industry needs to work together to deliver standard systems and processes which will allow carbon reduction of existing buildings to be carried out on a mass scale.’

There are currently about 26 million buildings, so with current replacement rates for homes we face the challenge of refurbishing up to 22 million buildings by 2050. Over half a million a year, for 40 years. To put that into perspective, it is over 60 buildings an hour. It requires a scale of endeavour which is probably unparalleled in peacetime, and for which we are not prepared.

The time and cost to turn these aspirations into reality is huge, and it is unlikely to happen through building improvements alone. Much of the reduction has to come from greening of energy supply, but we also need to refurbish millions of buildings to reduce the demands for energy. Not only to reduce emissions from the building fabric, but to install more efficient heating, cooling, ventilating and lighting systems. It is not yet clear whether this will be driven by simple economics or legislation. But whichever it is, there is a huge opportunity here for the building-services sector.

The Climate Change Act sets various targets and initiatives, including the Carbon Budget, Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC). The act also establishes the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). We also have the recent amendments to the Building Regulations affecting Parts B (fire safety), F (ventilation), G (sanitation and hot water), J (combustion appliances) and, of course, Part L (conservation of fuel and power, or energy efficiency in common terms). And then we have the recently announced Renewable Energy Strategy (RES), Feed in Tariffs (FiTs) and the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). All these will raise awareness of carbon issues and focus attention on energy efficiency.

Smart metering is also targeted to be installed in all commercial buildings, with a tough deadline of 2014, six years earlier than for dwellings.

EPCs, and their public sector counterparts DECs, continue to create awareness of energy use, and the requirement to inspect air-conditioning equipment, allied to the F gas inspection rules and refrigerant phase-out legislation should stimulate action to bring aging and badly managed plant equipment up to standard.

The first schemes introduced for homes have already made a significant impact around the UK, especially helping tackling fuel poverty in poorer areas. The Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (CERT) came into effect in 2008, obliging utility companies to promote and fund the reduction of energy use in the home, resulting in loft and wall-insulation schemes being introduced and energy-saving lamps being offered. ‘Warm Front’ gives those on benefits heating and insulation grants.

Energy labelling of white goods has been a success and is now being considered for brown goods too. Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) were introduced in 2008 to raise awareness of energy efficiency in homes and flats being sold or let. To date, EPCs have not been adequately enforced, so the full benefits have yet to be gained, but the signs are that the coalition Government is keen to make better use of energy certificates in both dwellings and non-domestic buildings. And the boiler scrappage scheme which ended earlier this year was a huge success.

CIBSE is committed to working with industry, government and the public to increase and improve awareness of these initiatives and to keep members and their businesses up to date. As we seek to reduce our demand for imported energy, we can save money and cut carbon emissions too.

Hywel Davies is technical director with the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers.

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