Efficiency – it’s not just about the building

Stephen Clark | 11 Apr 2017 | Comments

The most energy efficient built environment we can provide as designers is a building with no occupants. If there are no students, there’s no need for ventilation to reduce the CO2 levels, no need to consider high daylight factors with addressable dimmable lights, no need to ensure that the thermal strategy can maintain a suitably clement classroom.

As designers we can never look at a building on its own; we have to consider the human element. Our job is to take on the balancing act of satisfying low energy requirements while always keeping in mind the health and wellbeing of building occupants.

In higher education there are some big facts we need to take into consideration. According to Universities UK, in 2015-16 there were 2.28 million students studying at UK higher education institutions and of those, 80% of the buildings that they studied in were built before the 2010 Energy Regulations were brought into place. So a large proportion of our 2.28 million students are learning in an environment that will be largely energy inefficient by today’s standards. Another fact is that 46% of the UK’s total carbon output is from buildings. In order for the UK to achieve the promise of reducing 80% of its greenhouse gasses by 2050, we’ll need to ensure our existing university estates are refurbished in a focussed and pragmatic manner, whilst not forgetting or side lining the occupant’s health and wellbeing needs along the way.

To address this crucial balancing act between lower energy needs and a higher quality built environment, we’ve developed an innovative Refurbishment Assessment Tool. This tool has been designed to evaluate the potential health of existing building stock, helping universities to understand the suitability of performing key building upgrades. A real focus is on the passive elements of the design that also exploit the usability of the space, promoting the need for healthier daylighting and improved ventilation. The tool also looks at the inclusion of Low or Zero Carbon (LZC) technology and how it impacts on the building’s form (site suitability and orientation, for example). 

The tool weighs each of the six critical factors shown in this diagram to score a building’s suitability for both energy efficiency and health and wellbeing. It also goes one step further by offering comparable figures from other buildings, giving universities with a large building stock the ability to evaluate their existing buildings and identify the key ones to refurbish – maximising their return on investment in terms of energy and user health.

Wellbeing is at the heart of our Refurbishment Assessment Tool. Promoting a naturally ventilated and well-lit environment for example has a direct correlation with increased concentration levels and attendance rates. Our tool gives universities the confidence to react and make the decisions they need to make to move their estates forward, knowing the health of their end users has been considered and their refurbishments will create better places to work and learn.