The perceived risks of green building

Many of these people will have preconceptions about how to design and how to build. They may be wary of new techniques, materials and approaches. The banker may perceive a green building to be a greater financial risk, with higher costs and lower values and therefore be unwilling to lend; the planner and the neighbours may not agree that the benefits of building using materials with a low environmental impact such as timber outweigh the perception that a timber building would be inappropriate in a neighbourhood of predominantly brick buildings; the building control officer may be unfamiliar with the use of certain materials such as sheep’s wool for insulation and may be wary of granting permission for their use. Suppliers will be used to using short cuts. For example, they may design the heating system using general rules of thumb, such as fixing larger pipes than necessary which may lead to a less efficient system the subcontractor, used to building as he has always done, may not appreciate the importance of making sure that the building is well sealed against air infiltration to reduce heat losses, and so not take the care necessary to ensure that gaps are properly sealed.

green building

Green building also has advantages

You may find that you have to convince some of these people of your intentions, and to carry them along with your plans. There are of course a number of significant benefits of green building, which will improve the world we live in for everyone in an indirect way:

  • Reductions in the use of fossil fuels to provide heating and electricity for homes will reduce emissions of C02, which is a major factor in global warming.
  • This will also reduce other pollution, conserve stocks of fuel and make Britain less dependent on supplies of oil and gas from unstable parts of the world.
  • A reduction in the use of water will conserve resources which are already under stress in parts of England.
  • Better quality buildings with a long useful life will help to conserve resources and improve the economy.

Policies support green building

These measures are all underpinned by international agreements including the Kyoto Protocol and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, on COi emissions. The European Union has been leading policy development in many areas, and the Directive on the Energy Performance of Buildings became effective throughout Europe in January 2006. These international agreements are reflected in British government policies, including national targets for sustainable development and the Sustainable Communities Plan. There are in turn regional targets and plans published by the Regional Development Agencies (the RDAs). Local plans for each local borough and district incorporate the regional targets, and are in turn translated into policies for support for energy conservation for example in each local government area.

A green building need not look much different from any other building. Buildings with low environmental impact can be designed to enhance any locality. As you can see, there is a plethora of policies at all levels. It is well worthwhile obtaining copies of the documents pertaining to your area and familiarizing yourself with the relevant points in order that you can quote them in support of a planning application, for example.

How to influence people

You may have to convince the financier by explaining the business case for green building and showing that it does not present unreasonable risks. There is a growing body of experience which can demonstrate the benefits and which suggests that green buildings can command up to a 10% premium in value. They will also tend to be an appreciating rather than a wasting asset. There is also a growing body of experience, particularly on the continent, of tried and tested techniques and products. If you can produce evidence of this kind, it will show that the risks are relatively low.

A green building need not look much different from any other building. Buildings with low environmental impact can be designed to enhance any locality, and there are built examples that can be used to persuade planning officers and adjoining owners that they have nothing to fear. Planners should be encouraged to support high-quality schemes as a means of improving standards by example.

Detailed technical information, test results, certification and calculation will have to be employed to demonstrate to the building control officer the safety and fitness for purpose of your proposed building and its methods of construction and materials. Again, building control officers should be encouraged to support proposals that go beyond mere bottom line compliance with the Regulations to demonstrate best practice in energy efficiency and high-quality construction.

It is vitally important to get people on your side. A good principle to adopt to help in this process is to develop a collaborative relationship as far a possible with the people you are dealing with; officials can provide a great deal of useful advice, and neighbours will be generally very supportive if they understand what you are trying to achieve.

Employing a designer

An important question is who is going to do the designing? You could do it yourself, which would be in the spirit of self-help, but there are many technical aspects that will have to be dealt with. You Most people would be well advised to appoint an architect – but do not be downcast! You can still be the designer of your own home if you are clear about what you want and remain in control of the project.

may have the necessary experience of planning and building regulation and enough knowledge about construction and environmental design to be your own green architect, and you will certainly be in control of the process. Common sense will take you a long way, but drawings and specifications will be required to be submitted for approval, and whilst most officials will do what they can to be helpful, they do prefer in the end to deal with a technically qualified person who knows what is required and can produce the necessary information.

You could opt to employ an unqualified draughtsperson to turn your ideas into a design. They will tend to be limited in their capabilities and almost certainly inexperienced in designing for minimum energy consumption and low environmental impact.

You could decide to purchase a standard kit house or a standard design for a house. This may simplify the approvals process, but you then forsake one of the principal opportunities of building your own home – to have a house designed to your particular requirements and desires.

Whilst you may be able to rely on the housebuilding industry to produce a reasonable standard house (probably with not much delight), they will not be able to deliver a house with a good environmental performance.

Most people would be well advised to appoint an architect – but do not be downcast! You can still be the designer of your own home if you are clear about what you want and remain in control of the project. You will be getting professional help in getting it right and making sure that it is a quality building in harmony with the environment – so long as you get the right person.

Your designer will have to understand the principles underlying a sustainable approach to building and be committed to spending the time and effort necessary to getting it right and putting aside their prejudices. They can benefit from opportunities to work on cutting-edge developments, learn new skills, and acquire expertise that will put them ahead of the competition and open up new markets in the future.

Many professionals are still trained to believe that they know all the answers; they will tend to mystify their knowledge. You are looking for a designer who will explain the situation, help you to decide what you want and assist you in getting it. They should have experience of house building and of environmental design, and it is helpful if they are not too far away. There is a need for someone with experience and expertise in green building – and not that many people have it yet. The Association of Environment Conscious Building (AECB), has a useful register online of builders and suppliers, but also designers with a particular interest in and experience of green building. Be guided by recommendation, visit some completed projects and talk to the owners, get references and follow them up. Decide what tasks you want them to be responsible for, interview more than one and go through these tasks and gauge their reaction. Obtain quotations for the work. Finally, make sure that you have a clear agreement on the scope of the work and the fee – it sounds obvious, but it is surprising how often this is ignored.

Employing builders

Many builders similarly believe that they know all the answers and that there is only one right way – their way – of doing anything. You are looking for a builder who will consider the situation, suggest ways to get what you want and assist you in getting it. There is again a need for someone with experience and expertise in green building – and not that many people have it yet. The AECB register will come in handy here. Again, be guided by recommendation, visit some completed projects and talk to the owners, get references and follow them up. Decide the scope of the work you want them to take on, interview more than one, and go through the job and gauge their reaction. Obtain tenders for the work. Finally, make sure that the scope of the work is clear and agree the cost – again, it is surprising how often this is ignored.

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