Together We Create Change by Natalie Black at the EDGE

28 Sept 2022

Natalie Black’s “Together We Create Change” focused on sustainable architecture and design in terms of retrofitting and refurbishing the existing built fabric as a means to tackle climate change.

At the very start, the question of how our buildings (i.e.homes) affect the environment was posed, highlighting the serious consequences. For example, through their use, our homes account for 28% of emissions whilst the building industry through the construction of new builds is responsible for 11%, Within it’s wider reach in the steel, concrete and aluminium industries the global carbon emissions reach 23%, with another 20% for other building component manufacturing industries.

So how much are we actually building?(in all honesty it was shocking to see the answer)
If we use modern day New York City as a reference, between now & 2060 we would have built one New York every single month globally, which by 2060 will be a total of 456 New York Cities.

This terrifying notion was used to emphasise the importance of the materials that are used not only in new builds but in retrofits and refurbishments. At the same time, we currently face an energy crisis, and looking at the performance of our homes on average they use 35% of all energy in the UK and emit 20% of CO2 emissions (as stated by Trustmark in their guide to retrofitting your home). The fact is that our buildings are leaking through the floors, walls, windows and roofs.

So does retrofitting work and is it worth the cost?

“We can pivot so that the buildings we live and work in are not just an existential threat but part of the solution. Retrofit is important because it is part of the solution. It provides comfort, improved health, raises awareness and potentially influences others.” N. Black

To retrofit means to update the building fabric, heating and ventilation systems, to provide a more comfortable, healthier home with reduced energy consumption and carbon footprint. Muswell Hill, London (currently under construction) was used as a case study of a whole house retrofit and refurbishment to demonstrate the methods and materials used to update, redesign and extend the existing dwelling.

Prior to any building works, the existing dwelling was assessed to have an energy rating of G and now that works are nearing completion the building is predicted to have a B rating. The tremendous improvement was achieved through introduction of a new MVHR (mechanical ventilation heat recovery)system & air source heat pump but most of all by the type of materials used (i.e. cork, clay plaster, recycled sea plastic, lime plaster, wood wool, wood fibre, clay paint, insulating lime & cork plaster and hollow bricks).

The above listed materials are all low carbon (except of the hollow bricks, that being said they are a structural insulating material) and highly effective in improving building’s energy performance. Additionally, the primary structure (which often proves a challenge with retrofit projects) was reduced as much as possible and any steelwork was highly insulated using aerogel insulation. Furthermore, the existing bricks were re-used and the newly introduced concrete was specifically design for the project. Overall, by undertaking the retrofit and using the right materials and systems, the energy performance and efficiency was improved by 95%.

Walking away from the lecture, retrofitting is a real solution to an ever more pressing problem especially given the current rising cost of fuel, energy and living. So why aren’t more retrofitting projects going ahead? We believe that it has a lot to do with the lack of knowledge around the subject as well as the lack of government initiatives like those in the Netherlands and Italy.
While we can do little about national policies or initiatives we will be launching a new series of posts called Materials Matter where we will look at different low carbon high performance materials.