How the building industry can make a mark on sustainability

We are in a transformational decade for building and construction. Gail Cook, Global Head of Marcomms, Glen Dimplex Heating & Ventilation predicts the key building trends we can expect to see in the coming decade

Population projections suggest that 340,000 new homes are needed each year in England until 2031. Set this against the Government’s targets to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and the building industry must adapt.

With its high impact on our natural environment, the building sector has an obligation to reduce its carbon footprint. Almost half of all emissions (45%) in the UK are linked to construction, operation and maintenance of the built environment. As a result, the challenge today is to provide high quality, attractive homes that are also low carbon, energy and water efficient and climate resilient.

Customers are also demanding buildings that are better for the environment and the climate. Indeed nearly 8 out of 10 people (78%) in the UK believe that the environmentally sustainable performance of a building is important when choosing a new home.

Going modular

As the industry responds to changing requirements and demand, there are growing trends in green building technologies that will become more popular as we move through the next decade. This is especially relevant given all new housing must be Nearly Zero Energy (nZEB) by December 2020, paving the way for ultimately achieving Net Zero Carbon (NZC) buildings.

Modular housing will also become more popular in the drive to deliver carbon neutral construction. Often referred to as a ‘prefabricated building’, a modular build is pre-built in sections. Each of those sections is then transported to the location where the building will stand and the building is assembled on-site.

Modular buildings are subject to the same regulations and planning laws as traditional builds but this won’t stop modular builds developing at a fast pace. Modular builds represent a quick way to rectify the housing shortage and this will be a key driver in the growth of modular builds in the UK.

A collective of organisations that includes Homes England, Urban Splash and the largest modular house building company in Japan, Sekisui House, has come together to support a £90 million initiative that will see the building of modular homes increased in the UK.

Not only does a modular build require less time and labour, the controlled environment means it generates less material waste too. The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) shows that a 90% waste reduction can be achieved by increasing the use of off-site construction.

Building materials turning green

Rethinking building materials and sourcing locally will contribute significantly to gaining nZEB status. Materials with practical and ecological benefits such as cross laminated timber will, over time, usurp virgin concrete that uses more energy and depletes natural resources.

Fitting heat pumps and mechanical ventilation heat recovery (MVHR) systems will support high energy performance in new buildings and achieve low household bills, a double win for meeting carbon cutting targets and the homeowner’s back pocket.

Renewable energy itself will continue to experience its surge in popularity, propelled by technology innovations. Advances in battery storage will help to combat the fluctuating natural sources of wind, solar and water. Cutting-edge sensors and devices will take smart technology to a new level, with heating, cooling, lights and water controlled in more intelligent ways.

The industry must show and tell 

In an effort to address climate change, builders and engineers can embrace these green technologies in 2020 and beyond. The industry can also respond in other ways:

  1. Understand the language of sustainability. The UK Green Building Council is working with the Government to help shape the meaning of the ‘net zero’ terminology but understanding its precise definition and what it means for your business and your customers is essential. What is the shift to carbon neutral buildings?
  2. Educate customers. A home can have excellent energy efficiencies but maximising them is reliant on those who live there. Many construction companies now provide energy efficiency training to new residents with and motivate them by sharing performance data on their nZEB homes.
  3. Make a declaration. Using products with Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) is becoming increasingly important for the construction industry. These green certifications demonstrate sustainability credentials, helping to improve a property’s long-term value and attract and retain tenants and residents.

There is no silver bullet for global warming, or the challenges generated by a growing, urbanised population. However, the building industry is a significant driver of social change and a substantial contributor to the environmental footprint. Now is the time to rise to the challenge.