How to build sustainably
Nowadays, sustainability is at the core of everything we do. With the impact of climate change ever present, more and more businesses are rethinking their choices and resources management with an environmentally-friendly mindset.
But what does sustainability mean for property development?
It means thinking about every possible aspect of lifestyle choice that you can think of: from the place that you live to transportation; from the resources you use to keep yourself warm during winter to what is available to cook for mealtimes. From how you manage your waste to how you work; from your sense of belonging to reaching your full potential. It means thinking of all of these factors - besides the structure itself - when designing a new building, or at least it should.
Bright Green Futures, founded by Dr Steffie Broer, has a business model that has a holistic approach to building sustainable homes. Homeowners get to design a home bespoke to their needs, something that is still uncommon in the UK even among green developers, but more than that, they can actually get involved in building their own houses if they want to. The homeowners work together on the premises and create their perfect home, supported by Bright Green Futures, developing a sense of belonging and community in the process.
“My perspective is that in a development you want to go a bit further than thinking just about the house; you want to think about how it will be for people to live there.”
“For example: can you design it in a way that affects transportation? You can integrate living spaces with coworking spaces and then people can walk to work, saving hours of being stuck in traffic. Lifestyle has to be taken into consideration.”
This also involves creating community gardens for food resources, shared recycling facilities and communal areas, among others.
But what about the houses themselves?
Green companies often follow the PassivHaus principles: a set of guidelines and methodologies that involves:
building houses with very high levels of insulation
extreme high performance windows with insulated frames
airtight building fabric, ‘thermal bridge free’ construction
a mechanical ventilation system with highly efficient heat recovery, and
accurate design modelling using the Passive House Planning Package (PHPP).
“You can make houses self-sufficient all the way to carbon neutral. You start by looking at how to reduce the energy that will be needed, as much as possible. You look at insulation, draught proofing. You can do that in a way that provides comfort for the residents by following the PassivHaus Standard. Even if you don’t design it by that standard, you design it with those principles in mind by minimising energy needs, and then producing as much as possible of the energy needed. Then you find a way to generate the remaining energy still needed with renewable energy technology such as solar photovoltaic panels, for example.”
Developers can trade bricks for materials that lower heat transmittance, build green roofs and implement rainwater collection systems. The possibilities are endless.
Why then is green development still the exception, not the rule?
There are a few reasons for this.
“A lot of property developer companies will say they can’t do it because they don’t have the money. But I question that because I think that’s the excuse; they don’t know how to do it, don’t want to make the effort, or they prioritise shareholder or personal profits over principles. The extra expense is comparatively small and can often be recovered through a higher end value. Yeah, it does cost a bit more money but there is the argument that people will pay more for it,”
Fear of change often deters progress – for a while, at least. It can’t last forever. Sustainable homes are indeed more expensive to build, but in the long term, they are cheaper – utility bills become significantly lower.
Back in 2006, the British government pledged to make all new-build homes zero carbon by 2016, which prompted developers to rush into building sustainably. But by 2015, the policy was dropped under the excuse of “reducing net regulations on housebuilders.”
As unfortunate as it seems, homebuilders and developers don’t feel very much inclined to think of greener methods of construction if they are not pressured by authorities to do so.
“If the regulations change, companies will have to comply.”
Steffie explains. Although, in her words:
“…someone who goes beyond what the regulations require could be a competitor to the people who only do the minimum they need to do.”
So, what’s next?
Steffie’s advice is to get a consultant.
“Most planning applications require to submit a sustainable energy strategy. Find a good consultant to produce this and they can also advice you how to go further than the regulations. Many architects are also specialised on sustainability and can’t wait to drive it forward for a willing client.”
She also recommends first thinking about how you want your house to be – and then going after the technologies that will help you accomplish that. If you are (like Bright Green Futures) offering self or custom building to your customers rather than a conventional developer model, be patient with your customers. From her own experience, Steffie says:
“The challenge is to make our customer take the jump – partly because it’s a bigger investment but also to make the decision of going for what they really want and putting the energy in to create it, instead of getting a mortgage and buying an inferior, ready-made home. In the short term it’s the easier route, but not the smartest. We need to change the paradigm.”
When investing in a new project, or when building your own buildings, ask yourself these questions:
1. Will it follow the PassivHaus Standard?
2. Does layout and orientation maximise the use of natural resources?
3. Can ecological resources be enhanced?
4. What effect will the building have on water use?
5. How much energy will be needed to build it and operate it?
6. How much waste will be created by contractors?
7. Have homeowners’ aspirations been considered?
8. Is the house ready to deal with climate change risks?
Thinking about these questions and taking them into consideration is already a first step.
Are you up for the challenge?
If you would like to know more about Bright Green Futures, click here.
Images used with permission of Bright Green Futures