Research and Development

Building more sustainable homes

In addition to our commitment to offsetting carbon emissions, we are more generally looking at how we can help to help low carbon / carbon neutral buildings by exploring a range of different technologies.  We are encouraging and supporting our clients to implement new approaches to building and maintaining their homes as comfortable and liveable spaces.  What’s appropriate to your project will depend on circumstances and budget, so we work with you to find the best way forward.

We work to the principles of sustainable construction:

  • Sustainable design
  • Durability
  • Energy efficiency
  • Waste reduction
  • Indoor air quality
  • Water construction
  • Sustainable building materials

The 7 principles are methods used to contribute to a greener build environment and help to reduce our carbon footprint. Whether you are building anew or renovating an existing property, the work will require significant energy input and so careful design is needed to help ensure environmental impacts (during building and for the lifetime of the building) are minimised.

HEATING

A hot topic at the moment is the phasing out of gas boilers and replacing them with alternative approaches to space heating:

Heat Pumps

A heat pump uses a small amount of electricity to absorb the natural heat from a cold space and release it in a warmer one, like a fridge, only in reverse.  Additionally, reversible heat pumps can provide heating in the winter and cooling in the summer.  They are extremely efficient, capable of producing 3 or 4 times more heat than conventional electric heaters using the same amount of electricity. They’re also extremely reliable and operate all year round, making them an excellent option for homes. Although the initial cost of installation is high, when combined with the RHI payments and energy bill savings, they make a lot of sense compared to gas boilers and other heating systems.  What’s more, heat pumps utilise a clean and sustainable source of power. This natural heat is constantly being replenished by the sun, unlike most other fuels. Furthermore, heat pumps don’t produce greenhouse gases because there’s no combustion involved.

Air source heat pumps

A good alternative to gas boilers which can provide fairly low-cost space heating for homes which are not connected to the gas grid, or for very well insulated new-build homes rather than renovated older properties. Air source heat pumps are a kind of renewable energy technology that take the warmth from the air outside (even when it’s freezing) and use it to heat the home. You can get other heat pumps that do the same thing using the warmth in the ground and in water, but air source heat pumps are suitable for a wider range of properties. Because the air (or ground, or water) is heated by the sun, the energy that heat pumps produce is still classed as ‘renewable’, even though the pump itself is powered by electricity which may or may not have a renewable source.

There are two types of air source heat pump. Air-to-water systems heat water which is then circulated around the home via radiators or an underfloor heating system. They can also be used to heat water in a storage tank for the bathroom or kitchen. Air-to-air systems typically use fans to circulate warm air around the home and cannot be used to heat water.

Infra-red heating panels

We consider infrared heating panels as a fine alternative to gas boilers. Unlike convection heating systems that warm the air, these panels emit infrared energy, which is absorbed into solid objects. This absorbed energy causes the molecules to vibrate, warming the object, person or room.  Infrared heating panels prove a highly effective method of heating.

Solar Thermal Panels

Solar thermal panels are worth considering as a gas boiler alternative. These eco-friendly systems absorb heat from the sun in solar collectors, which are fitted to your roof. The heated fluid is then transferred to your hot water tank, where it’s ready to use. Solar thermal panels aren’t enough to meet a typical house’s heating demands on its own, so they’re often used in conjunction with infrared heating panels or heat pumps. As with all renewable energy technologies, you can expect a high upfront cost, but the returns are significant.

Biomass Boilers and Stoves

Domestic wood-fuelled heating systems (biomass systems) burn logs or wood chips and pellets and may also include animal, food and industrial waste. A stove is used to heat a single room, whereas a biomass boiler is more of a direct alternative to a gas boiler, heating your whole house and hot water. Stoves are only eligible for the Renewable Heat Incentive if it is a pellet stove with a back boiler.

The carbon dioxide emitted when wood is burned is the same as was absorbed over the same time that the plant was growing, and this is generally considered a sustainable approach, but it does produce carbon dioxide and other pollutants.  Biomass boilers and stoves require regular cleaning to remove ash (some of have self-cleaning systems). Wood burning stove and boiler owners must ensure that the chimney and flue pipes are swept professionally each year.

Furthermore, wood boilers are larger than gas or oil equivalents. You will need space for the fuel and a regulation-meeting flue – either an existing lined chimney or a new insulated stainless-steel pipe. All new wood heating systems have to comply with building regulations, so it’s best to check with your local planning authority to find out if planning permission is required.

We therefore recommend looking at biomass boilers, which can use the same fuel to heat your home evenly via a central heating system and heat your water. Although initially pricey, biomass boilers are a viable alternatives to gas boilers.

PAINTS

The way to go now is with water-based paints.  The range of colours and finishes is as good as the VOC-heavy paints of previous years.  VOCs are the culprits behind the strong smell of some traditional paints, a result of pollutants being released into the atmosphere as the paint dries. By contrast, low VOC / odour finishes release minimal fumes, giving you a product that’s safe, comfortable to apply and live with, and kinder to the environment.

BUILDING MATERIALS

Eco-friendly insulation

When building a property, insulation is an important aspect to consider. Insulation is great for retaining heat during the winter and also reducing the cost of heating and cooling throughout the year. For more than a century, most new homes were built using fiberglass insulation, but this caused many health issues over the years as well as not being great for the environment. Now, many green home insulation alternatives have been created to make your home as safe and healthy as possible. Examples of these eco-friendly insulation include:

  • Sheep wool

Sheep wool is fire retardant and is the perfect material to keep your home warm. Sheep wool helps to generate heat while also preventing condensation which is great for keeping your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

  • Cotton/denim

Cotton is a natural resource and is one of the most eco-friendly insulation options on the construction market. In addition, blue jean scraps are shredded and recycled into thick batts that fit into your walls just like fibreglass. Cotton is a natural insect repellent and doesn’t cause respiratory problems. However, compared to fibreglass, cotton is expensive, costing nearly twice as much.

  • Icyene

Icynene is a spray foam made out of castor oil that expands about 100 times its volume when you spray into a wall. Icyene seals leaks and drafts and cancels noise. It is one of the strongest home insulation alternatives, but it can be expensive due to the upfront costs. However, in the long run, It can massively reduce your energy bills!

  • Wood Fibre

Wood fibre boards are a renewable source of insulation that also deliver a variety of functions; It provides robust and flexible insulation for floors and roofs. The wood is recyclable and locks in carbon during growth and is relatively free from polluting factors.

Eco-friendly Windows

For many new construction businesses, eco-friendly windows are not a new concept and many new builds now have these windows fitted – no questions asked. The construction industry has now started to move towards eco-friendly replacement windows due to the benefits both on the planet and costs. When looking at the options for eco-friendly window materials, there are now a vast amount of options to choose from. No matter the budget or design, there will be something perfect for you. Materials include:

  • Wood 

Wood is a traditional choice for many construction businesses due to being a cheaper option.

  • Aluminium 

Aluminium is one of the most widely used window frame materials due to its strength and durability in multiple weather conditions. It is one of the cheaper options and great for house window frame materials.

  • Vinyl 

Vinyl continues to be known as a great budget material and is a perfect material that does not sacrifice usability.

  • Composite

Composite window frames are one of the top green, sustainable window frames in the market today due to being made from wood shavings and recycled plastics.

  • Wood-Clad 

Considered the best of both worlds, wood-clad combines a tough exterior such as vinyl or aluminium with a wood interior for a great alternative option.

  • Fibreglass 

Fibreglass is one of the most expensive options on the market, but is considered one of the longest lasting and most eco-impact window framing.

Eco-friendly Foundations

The building foundation is at the core of a safe and secure home environment for families. As the base of all our buildings, foundations provide the stability needed to give us a solid and healthy environment.

Concrete is the world’s most widely used material for construction. It is used in a variety of construction projects such as building bridges to large buildings. Concrete forms the very foundation of our infrastructure with a whopping 70% of the world’s population living in a concrete structure. However, there has been speculation that concrete is a major contributor to greenhouse emissions. Alternative sustainable concrete has been created to help reduce carbon emissions.

  • Green concrete 

Green concrete is made using waste materials and requires less amount of energy for production. It also produces less carbon dioxide and is considered cheaper and durable.

  • Ashcrete

Ashcrete heavily uses recycled fly ash. Fly Ash is mixed together with lime and water to make it strong and durable.

  • Concrete Debris

Concrete debris is used in a way to use waste concrete materials and cut down resource consumption. This helps to save valuable landfill space and reduce the use of virgin raw materials.

  • Blast Furnace Slag

Similarly to fly ash, blast furnace slag is a byproduct that can be recycled and used to make an environmentally friendly alternative to concrete. It is produced by quenching molten iron slag from the blast furnace into water.

Eco-friendly Bricks

Green bricks are an environmentally friendly alternative to concrete and high-fired clay bricks. At the same time, eco-friendly bricks look, feel and functionality is exactly the same as conventional bricks.

  • Hempcrete bricks

Hempcrete is an environmentally friendly alternative to concrete and is made of hemp, lime and water. Hempcrete is eco-friendly and carbon negative due to the amount of carbon dioxide during the growing and harvesting of the hemp.

  • Recycled glass brick

Recycled glass brick is currently researching a solution for glass waste by breaking down glass bottles into sand which is used to create eco-bricks for construction and paving. The glass is used to replace normal sand in brick making the eco-bricks more eco-friendly with over 70% of it being waste material.

  • Green leaf brick

Green leaf brick is 100% recycled scrap. It is not recycled brick, but is quality, newly manufactured red and brown brick made from materials from landfills and plant refuse.

  • Clay brick

From its production and its extended product life, clay brick is friendlier to the environment compared to other convenience materials. The brick reduces the strain on local infrastructure by reducing demand for landfills, water supply, storm water management and transportation of materials.

Recycled materials

There are many different types of materials that can be recycled from construction and demolition projects which, of course, saves you money, reduces waste disposal costs and helps the planet.

Recycled materials include:

  • Plasterboard
  • Metals
  • Plastics
  • Glass
  • Wood
  • Bricks
  • Floor and wall coverings
  • Insulation
  • Packaging

Eco-friendly building materials

Eco-friendly building materials experienced a massive surge in 2020 due to the rise of sustainable construction. There are many materials for you to consider when building your eco-friendly development and we’ve listed many different and interesting options:

  1. Bamboo
  2. Straw Bales (with a rendered exterior)
  3. Timercret
  4. Recycled Plastics
  5. Ferrock
  6. Hempcrete
  7. Cork

There are so many different materials to choose from and you need to find which ones best suit yourself, your budget and most importantly, your development.

Eco-materials vs Eco Design

When working towards creating a sustainable build, taking into consideration your eco design is just as important as using eco materials. Prioritising sustainable designs will help to meet the needs of both people and the environment.

Energy efficiency over the lifetime of a building is one of the most important considerations when looking into sustainable design. For example, placing a building correctly towards the sun will allow natural light and warmth to come through and reduce the need for powered heating and lighting. Adding in eco materials on top of the design will help the construction industry create sustainable builds that are kind to the environment and help occupiers save money.

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