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Low Impact Building: Housing using Renewable Materials

ISBN: 978-1-4443-3660-3
252 pages
April 2013, Wiley-Blackwell
Low Impact Building: Housing using Renewable Materials (1444336606) cover image

This guide to the designs, technologies and materials that really make green buildings work will help architects, specifiers and clients make informed choices, based on reliable technical information.

Low Impact Building: Housing using Renewable Materials is about changing the way we build houses to reduce their ‘carbon’ footprint and to minimise environmental damage. One of the ways this can be done is by reducing the energy and environmental impact of the materials and resources used to construct buildings by choosing alternative products and systems. In particular, we need to recognise the potential for using natural and renewable construction materials as a way to reduce both carbon emissions but also build in a more benign and healthy way. This book is an account of some attempts to introduce this into mainstream house construction and the problems and obstacles that need to be overcome to gain wider acceptance of genuinely environmental construction methods.

The book explores the nature of renewable materials in depth: where do they come from, what are they made of and how do they get into the construction supply chain? The difference between artisan and self-build materials like earth and straw, and more highly processed and manufactured products such as wood fibre insulation boards is explored.

The author then gives an account of the Renewable House Programme in the UK explaining how it came about and how it was funded and managed by Government agencies. He analyses 12 case studies of projects from the Programme, setting out the design and methods of construction, buildability, environmental assessment tools used in the design, performance in terms of energy, air tightness, carbon footprint and post-occupancy issues.

The policy context of energy and sustainability in the UK, Europe and the rest of the world is subjected to a critical examination to show how this affects the use of natural and renewable materials in the market for insulation and other construction materials. The debate over energy usage and embodied energy is discussed, as this is central to the reason why even many environmentally progressive people ignore the case for natural and renewable materials.

The book offers a discussion of building physics and science, considering energy performance, moisture, durability, health and similar issues.  A critical evaluation of assessment, accreditation and labelling of materials and green buildings is central to this as well as a review of some of the key research in the field.

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Acknowledgements x

Figure credits xi

Introduction xii

The Renewable House Programme xiv

The expansion of natural building xiv

The wider environmental agenda xv

Chapter overview xvii

References xviii

1 Renewable and non-renewable materials 1

Synthetic, manmade materials 2

Limitations of synthetic materials 3

Questioning claims about recycling 4

Resource consumption problem with synthetic materials 7

Renewable materials – insulation 9

Carbon sequestration and embodied energy 10

Performance and Durability of natural materials 11

Natural renewable materials commercially available 11

Low impact materials 22

References 23

2 Case Studies: twelve projects in the Renewable House Programme 26

Abertridwr Y Llaethdy South Wales 29

Drumalla House, Carnlough, County Antrim 35

Blackditch, Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire 40

Callowlands, Watford 44

Domary Court, York 49

Inverness 55

Long Meadow, Denmark Lane, Diss 59

LILAC, Leeds 64

Tomorrow’s Garden City, Letchworth 68

Reed Street, South Shields 76

The Triangle, Swindon 80

Pittenweem 88

References 92

3 The Renewable House Programme: a strange procurement! 94

Monitoring and evaluation 103

References 106

4 Analysis of issues arising from the case studies 107

Success in using natural renewable materials 107

Adapting conventional timber frame construction for using natural materials 109

The importance of getting details right and using details appropriate for eco materials 110

Problems with designs and the need to get warranty approvals for changes of details 111

Weather issues and hempcrete 112

Decision of Lime Technology to go for prefabrication in future and whether this is the best option 114

Using wood fibre products and issues related to construction and components 115

References 116

5 Attitudes to renewable materials, energy issues and the policy context 118

Why attitudes and policies affect the use of renewable materials 118

Climate change and energy efficiency targets 118

What is carbon? 119

Sustainable construction and energy policies 120

UK Code for Sustainable Homes 121

New planning policy framework 123

The zero carbon myth 123

The carbon spike concept 125

Energy in use or ‘operational energy’ is all that matters to many 126

How embodied energy was discounted 128

Carbon footprinting 132

Passive design approaches 133

Do natural and renewable materials have lower embodied energy? 133

Carbon sequestration in timber 136

Wood transport issues 137

Carbon sequestration in hemp and hempcrete 138

The Green Deal 139

Official promotion of synthetic insulations 140

Other attitudes hostile to natural materials – the food crops argument 142

Transport and localism 143

Cost 144

References 145

6 Building physics, natural materials and policy issues 148

Holistic design 149

European standards, trade and professional organisations 151

Building physics – lack of good research and education 154

Lack of data and good research on sustainable buildings 155

Energy simulation and calculation tools 157

Assessment of material’s environmental impact and performance 160

Moisture and breathability and thermal mass 164

Breathability 168

Thermal mass and energy performance in buildings 170

Building physics research into hempcrete 174

Indoor air quality 178

References 183

7 Other solutions for low energy housing 187

Hemp lime houses 187

Hemp houses in Ireland 189

Local sheep’s wool in Scotland 192

Strawbale houses in West Grove, Martin, North Kesteven, Lincolnshire 192

Timber experiments 194

Scottish Housing Expo 197

Using local materials? 197

Greenwash projects? 199

So-called ‘carbon neutral’ developments 202

Earth sheltered building 203

BRE Innovation Park 204

Masonry construction for low energy houses 205

Blaming the occupants 209

Back to the 60s and 70s – déjà vu 210

References 211

8 A future for renewable materials? 214

Middlemen 216

Postscript 217

References 219

Glossary/Abbreviations 220

Index 227

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Tom Woolley is an architect and educator and self-builder. He has taught at the Architectural Association, Strathclyde University, Hull School of Architecture, Queens University Belfast, University of Central Lancashire, UiTM in Malaysia, University of Umea, the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales, University of Bath and University of Gloucestershire. His research work and writing has covered housing policy, sustainable materials and design theory. He is active in the Co-operative party, ARC-PEACE and Scientists for Global Responsibility. He has helped to establish the Alliance for Sustainable Building Products in the UK. Working with Rachel Bevan Architects in County Down in Northern Ireland, he is also involved in organic gardening and sustainable woodland management.

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“I would recommend it to both experienced practitioners and those new to the subject.  It provides enough detail to allow one to source products, ask the right questions, challenge the answers, and hopefully promote the use of natural materials.”  (The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, 1 October 2013)

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