Sustainable Construction Isn’t About Compromises

There’s a lingering assumption that greater sustainability in house building is in some ways at odds with efficiency, cost reduction and increased output.

When faced with an acute housing crisis and the need to complete 300,000 new homes each year, perhaps it’s inevitable that some will ask, ‘Can’t we forget this sustainability stuff for now and just concentrate on getting more homes built?’

This point of view makes sense if you’re locked in a traditional construction mindset. If you build in a traditional way and upgrade the home to improve energy efficiency it inevitably adds further operations. These come with their own additional costs and timing risks.

In this zero sum game you have to compromise – either over sustainability standards, costs or delivery times. It also has little to say about the levels of embodied carbon predetermined by choices of materials and methods.

Energy Efficient Affordable Housing

We have to move on from this thinking. There’s a wealth of real-world project data to show that SIP-based building systems deliver excellent levels of energy efficiency in affordable housing schemes. Thermal properties are engineered into the structure during production, which means the performance is guaranteed to match the model.

Residential schemes delivered using SIPs are completed faster because sites and structures are developed in parallel. Also, there’s a minimal or zero cost penalty compared to a conventional build with comparable energy efficiency performance.

The construction sector in 2022 will continue to experience uncertainty over labour supply and costs. This could have a far bigger impact on the ability to deliver conventionally built homes quickly than any additional sustainability requirements.

Carbon Calculator Tool

We touched earlier on the issue of embodied carbon. Sustainable house building must also account for the carbon emissions created by processing construction materials and the construction process itself.

More sophisticated models of whole-life carbon are needed that go beyond a narrow focus on operational carbon. This is also something we know how to do.

Working with KLH Consultancy, we’ve developed an embodied carbon calculator tool. Using the tool we can analyse the structure of a building (whether existing or at the specification stage) and calculate the total embodied carbon.

The tool quantifies the balance between the sequestered or ‘biogenic’ carbon captured in structural timber elements, and the embodied carbon of materials such as steel and concrete. It also allows the carbon impact of design changes (such as replacing concrete floor slabs with timber cassette floors) to be modelled.

A more enlightened approach to residential construction, supported by the carbon calculator tool and whole-life carbon modelling is surely the way forward. And now is definitely the time to be looking forward rather than back.

Find out more about how we work by visiting our resource centre, or email enquiries@innovaresystems.co.uk for more information.