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Thursday24 July 2014

Know your building’s carbon footprint

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Online carbon calculator tools help architects understand energy and environmental issues

Energy and the environment may be the last section in the Conservative Liberal coalition agreement but it is there, testament to the fact that green issues will continue to dominate the legislative future impacting on the construction industry. Architects are potentially as guilty as politicians in bandying around green buzzwords but how actively are the issues engaged with?

There is nothing like looking close to home to start to get a handle on the issues. The online carbon calculator on the Act On CO2 website (http://carboncalculator.direct.gov.uk) allows users to calculate carbon footprints on an individual or household basis and compare to UK-wide benchmarks. It is based upon almost 50 questions which are overwhelmingly about energy consumption rather than building design. The Carbon Trust website (www.carbontrust.co.uk) provides a similar tool to allow a carbon footprint calculation based on the operations of a company or business.

Broad-ranging energy design guidance is published by the Energy Savings Trust. This is freely available on its website for download (www.energysavingstrust.org.uk). Similarly the BRE has pre-Breeam assessment PDF worksheets freely available once you have registered on its website. They help to provide a comprehensive checklist of environmental issues on building types from eco homes to retail developments (www.breeam.org).

Emissions database

The CarbonBuzz (www.carbonbuzz.org) is a collaborative industry-wide project that aims to create a database of forecast and actual carbon emissions for a variety of building types. Currently 166 projects have been entered and already the reality of the differences between design expectations and real world usage are starting to become apparent. The more architects use the site to enter their own projects, then the more authoritative it will become.

In the final analysis, energy-efficient design has to achieve compliance with the relevant building regulations. The regulations are available at the Planning Portal (www.planningportal.gov.uk).

To aid with compliance with Part L, the Building Research Establishment has written a (Windows-only) u-value calculator. It is fairly basic and doesn’t do condensation risk analysis but it is fairly cheap (£58.75) and has the advantage of being written by the same body that defines the standards for u-value calculations.

Commercial providers of software can provide a Windows and Mac compatible SAP (standard assessment procedure) calculator for building regulations compliance from as little as £85 per year (www.completepicture.co.uk). JPA TL provides a Windows-only SAP calculator that is almost 10 times the price but can import physical data about the design by importing 3D models (www.techlit.co.uk). Alternatively, a cloud computing solution is available from Energy Design Tools. It costs just £250 for an annual licence. Being web-based it is also cross-platform.

I recently had a go at the online Building Performance Quiz (http://bpquiz.co.uk), which is aimed at design professionals. While just notching over the average mark, I was left feeling rather under-informed. The questionnaire asks you to rate your confidence level that your answers are right as you go along.

It is part of a research project looking into how architects make decisions on energy-efficiency issues. Have a go, see how you do and register for a free copy of the findings when they are published.

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