How the UK’s building stock is contributing to climate change

It was stated in 2016 by an International Energy Agency (IEA) chief that the world’s priority to tackle climate change should focus on ensuring buildings have high standards of efficiency and safety. Building inefficiency is an increasingly important issue for the UK, particularly as we reportedly have the oldest and least efficient building stock in Europe. We’re going to examine how our buildings are contributing to climate change….

Inefficient, old buildings  

It was recently reported that the government department that runs energy policy is located within a highly energy inefficient building. Ironic. Offices occupied by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) received a G rated Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) which is the lowest in the EPC scale and therefore the least efficient. A poor example case especially as that exact department should be worrying the most about building efficiency.

There are a number of reasons why buildings become inefficient, such as poor levels of insulation, lighting and HVAC. Being home to some of the oldest buildings in Europe, we must concentrate our efforts more on making improvements in these areas. Take a look at our 5 step guide on how you can improve your EPC rating through building fabric, lighting and HVAC.

Thanks to a number of new building regulations, there is more pressure on property owners and landlords, however, some would argue that maybe not enough. The Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) were introduced in April 2018 and do not allow landlords to renew or grant a new tenancy of longer than 6 months if their commercial property has an EPC rating of F or G. As a result, there is increased pressure on improving EPCs and the overall energy performance of a building. However, is it enough?

Poor indoor air quality

Recent research has shown that air pollution could be having a detrimental effect on our education. It has been found that 95% of the global population are breathing unsafe air and it could be having a deeper impact than just physical health. It is a crucial issue in the UK this year and the government must commit to introducing new policies related to air quality.

The pressure is mounting on Theresa May as 17 mayors from across the UK are demanding that she delivers ‘tough and urgent’ action on air pollution. The group of leaders from cities such as London, Manchester and Liverpool are calling on the Prime Minister to introduce a new Environment and Clean Air Act which has stronger air quality limits set by the World Health Organisation.  There are a number of aspects included in the letter as suggestions to improve air quality in the UK, such as more investment in government schemes that encourage walking and cycling to work, incentivising travel via public transport and introducing a targeted national vehicle renewal scheme aimed at replacing older vehicles with newer, lower emission vehicles. We will need to be alert during the coming months and hope that some of these suggestions are taken into account by the government and trialled.

In terms of indoor air quality, if we think about office buildings, employees are not getting exactly what they need. When sitting at a desk all day, we need fresh, clean air, appropriate temperature and humidity and regular movement. Instead we get outdoor and indoor pollutants, people feeling too hot or too cold and continuous prolonged sitting. In order to gain the maximum engagement from employees, it’s important to understand how to improve health and wellbeing in the workplace. Our arbn well software solution is currently working on this to monitor air quality and determine ways to improve the workplace.

Shift towards renewable energy  

In an important shift, more than 5,500 churches throughout the UK have converted to renewable power to help tackle climate change. With church electricity bills often very high, British churches have changed from spending more than £5m from fossil fuels to clean energy providers. This is a positive approach to begin relating a modern development with old construction.

Understanding energy efficiency in buildings relates to a number of things: the efficiency of building fabric and equipment installed, how occupiers use the building and understanding how buildings can install new methods to improve energy performance, e.g. installing renewable energy technologies. There are many ways in which renewable energy can be installed in buildings through wind, ground mounted solar PV, biomass CHP and battery storage plus many other forms.

In order to encourage the deployment of renewable energy, the government has introduced a number of incentives such as the Renewable Heat Incentive. Under the RHI, your business could receive quarterly cash payments over seven years if you install a renewable heating technology. Overall, these efforts will encourage businesses to invest in renewable energy, making the built environment a more sustainable one.

It was also revealed at the end of August 2018 that London has joined 18 other cities around the world, including Paris, New York and Tokyo, to make all new buildings net zero carbon by 2030. Although there is still a concerning issue related to existing buildings, this is certainly a step in the right direction.