Improve building fabric to save money and cut carbon emissions

IMPROVING building fabric, upgrading insulation and installing appropriate controls can save businesses money and help cut carbon emissions.

According to The Carbon Trust, around 60 per cent of office heat is lost through the building fabric. Low cost improvements can dramatically reduce this loss and installing and correctly operating technology that centrally operates heating, ventilation, cooling and lighting can also contribute to cutting energy costs.

Reducing energy use makes perfect business sense; it saves money, enhances corporate reputation and helps everyone in the fight against climate change.

The most effective way to take action to reduce carbon emissions is to use energy more efficiently. Simple actions save energy, cut costs and increase comfort for building occupants.

Incorporating energy efficient measures into any plans to upgrade your building fabric can be extremely cost effective. But why consider building fabric as part of an energy efficiency programme?

Improving a site’s building fabric leads to:

  • Reduced energy costs as a result of minimising the loss of treated (heated or cooled) air.
  • Better temperature control – it can lower ventilation and air conditioning costs and prevent overheating.
  • Improved productivity – the output and morale of the people in the building can be enhanced  by providing a more comfortable working environment through reducing draughts, solar glare, overheating and noise.
  • Lower capital expenditure – a more efficient, well-insulated building needs smaller heating and cooling systems.
  • Good investment – better insulation can increase a building’s value and attractiveness.
  • Compliance with regulation – businesses may need to consider building fabric under government building regulations.

Building regulations – Building regulations now stipulate that if you are refurbishing an element of the building fabric, you have to improve its energy efficiency if the work will, or may, affect the thermal performance. This includes considering the whole building even if only part of it is being refurbished.

Changes to the regulations require buildings to include “reasonable provision” for improvements with a payback period of up to 15 years.

Such reasonable provisions include:

  • Increasing the insulation in roof spaces.
  • Insulating all available empty external cavity walls.

Energy consumption – The design and specification of the building fabric is a major determining factor of energy use in any building. It has to strike a balance between ventilation and daylight requirements and the need to provide comfortable temperatures for the people inside.

Although ventilation and air conditioning requirements are both affected by building fabric, it is heating which has the largest overall energy cost implication.

Typically, two-thirds of the heat generated in a building is lost through the building fabric itself. The remaining third is lost through gaps and vents in the fabric which allow warm air to leave and cold air to enter the space, either deliberately through ventilation or uncontrolled through gaps and cracks. This lost heat has to be made up again by the heating system and can be an expensive waste of energy.

The rate at which heat is lost depends on:

  • The temperature difference between the inside and outside of the building.
  • The insulation properties of the building fabric.
  • The amount of fresh air entering the building, either by controlled ventilation or through poorly fitting windows, doors or joins in walls.

Following building fabric upgrades and refurbishment, maximum energy savings will only be achieved if your heating system is well controlled locally to take advantage of the lower rate of heat loss. It is estimated that around 10-15 per cent of total energy costs is wasted by heat losses through the building fabric but significant savings are achievable through the implementation of somesimple energy efficiency measures.

A good starting point for improving building fabric is to look around a building and create a checklist of areas to inspect regularly and problems to look out for. Check roofs and lofts, walls, windows and doors which can offer low or no cost efficiency measures.

Source: Carbon Trust