How can we confidently ‘Future Proof’ our buildings?

  • Building Design Expert
  • 5 years ago

It’s no secret, ever since the turn of our current century the Building Regulations (AD L) have constantly been updated to inspire the construction industry to innovate, ensuring that we can meet the ever growing demand to conserve fuel / energy. It was difficult to begin with, but with the wonderful gift of hindsight, we are able to look back to realise that the regulations have not been too onerous technically. They have in fact paid heed to the considerable cost implications that could have resulted, and they may well have been worse.

So every four years we have swallowed hard, joined hands and marched together in the spirited reduction to carbon emissions. The government’s relentless drive to meet previous government’s commitment made at Kyoto 1997 meant an upgrade of thinking, of use and implementation of technology, particularly on our new buildings, but definitely not forgetting the ones we already have.

You don’t have to look hard to know that we now have that ‘Tech’. in relative abundance. Because if we can’t do it via the swings, it will almost certainly work via the roundabouts, or maybe a combination of both. If it won’t work with double glazing, it will with ‘Triple and maybe a coating or two’. Perhaps throw in in a well considered renewable – You get the gist? It has all become very doable, and almost all of a sudden.

But what remains the ever constant make or break? You got it – Cost, with that capital ‘C’. It will always dictate what we do, and how we do it. Sprinkle in some sustainability to taste and the apparently straightforward task of ‘future-proofing’ our buildings just got very tricky.

Of course zero carbon is where we need to be, but practicality precludes us from using this yard stick as a true measure of three feet. When someone is brave enough to stick their heads above the parapet and define what is truly ‘zero carbon’ we can confidently stride forward with a yard to each step. But as long as we have legislative frameworks such as SAP, which incidentally should be an acronym for ‘Subjective Assessment Procedure’, allowing the like of home office facilities and cycle stores as key contributors in the Code for Sustainable Old Peoples Homes, is a mickey take of the highest order.

But SAP or no SAP, the difficulty financing a ‘future-proof’ budget means we have to choose how to spend it wisely and therefore effectively. Delivering the best combination of current tech., and addressing the building owners and users needs now, in anticipation of their needs in the future. Reading tea leaves was never quite my thing. Especially when they are wrapped in a soggy perforated paper bag. Does anyone do palms?

Buildings, or rather their components will wear out eventually if we let them. Developer:  “…….these new windows should last us ten years”. Not quite true; there is no reason why windows should not last twenty or thirty years, maybe more. What was really meant was that the technology with which they were manufactured and installed should just about span ten years. By the end of that time window design should be so much more efficient, and better able to contribute to maintaining our building’s design temperatures, that replacement or refurbishment could be justified. But is ‘justified’ on technology alone enough? I know enough about my soggy tea bag and sweaty palms to predict that the associated costs just might stop this train on it’s tracks. We can increase the capex now, saving money on the risk that we won’t need to do it in the future. Step forward Mr Confident.

So what do we do? We can meet the current performance specification minimum, and ignore the future proof protagonists. Or, we can spend our way to the top of today’s pile in anticipation that it will be not too far away from the technological peak in a pre-determined number of years. Either way you will probably find that the old maxim applies: “Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t”.

So how can we confidently ‘Future Proof’ our buildings? – Tesco’s do not, unfortunately, do BOGOF deals on high performance windows – Not this week anyway. Until then it’s down to our best educated guess; not all of which will hit the nail squarely. The risk takers must prepare for some more bruised fingers.

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