Sustainability of new and existing building stock in the UK

Essay, 2014
15 Pages

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Sustainability is a universal phenomenon that addresses the need to protect the environment for current, as well as future generations. It deals with issues ranging from the vast social needs, infinite environmental requirements to massive financial obligations. As such, governments worldwide are taking precautionary measures to ensure that the current development policies are conforming to certain suitability standards. The standards, according to the United Nations, must be economic, socially acceptable and, most importantly, protect the environment; not only for current but also for future generations (Scott & Joseph, 2012, p. 217).

Therefore, one of the strategies international bodies and local governments are using to promote sustainability is the introduction of standard measures in the construction sector. Currently, there is a global upsurge in construction companies that mainly address the concept of sustainability, and United Kingdom (UK) is no exception. For a fact, older buildings are being refitted to meet current sustainability drivers or codes while newly built blocks are required to meet these standards as well. For instance, offices, education centers, hospitals, rental apartments and many other social amenities, both older and newly built, are required to meet these sustainability commitments. As such, proprietors and building owners have been forced to refurbish and refit their structures, for example with lagging material to save energy (Dixon et al., 2014, p. 108).

The big question then is why sustainability? For that reason, this paper seeks to establish the current drivers for sustainability in the construction sector, both global and the UK. Afterwards, it presents two cases studies, focusing on a recently built structure and an old serviced one, but mainly highlighting their sustainability features. A further analysis, focusing on the difference of the two structures in terms of sustainability potential, then follows. Finally yet importantly, the paper looks into the current and future effects of the drive towards sustainability in my profession. Finally, it analyses the prospective opportunities that refurbishing of older houses might bring forth in my career (The Concrete Centre, 2014).

SECTION ONE The current drivers for sustainability

As indicated above, there has been a recent global rush in embracing sustainable structures. However, it has trickled down into national levels and has seen policies enacted just to meet these maintenance drivers. The following, therefore, are some of the key sustainability drivers:

Internationally Drivers

i) Increased contest for Resources

Pundits have predicted that the world population will increase by around 9 billion people 36 years from now. That just means that by 2015, there will be more people on the planet to exert pressure on natural resources. As such, increased living standard will necessitate an expansion in world markets and economies, which will eventually affect natural resources. So, there is a need to preserve and maintain these natural reservoirs for current populations as well as generations to come. If something is not done quickly, then there is likely to be a crisis. Some of the natural reserves, which were previously regarded as renewable, are slowly become extinct. For instance, forests in water catchment areas are slowly being degraded hence influencing heavily on rivers, seas, and lakes. However, there is very little effort directed towards replenishing these used resources. The end-result is very severe, and may by far sound alarming now, but will greatly affect upcoming creatures, including both plants and animals (Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2001, pp. 20-23).

One can only picture how the world will look like if the demand overwhelms the supply. It will result to conflict as human beings scramble for the scarce resources to satisfy their basic requirements like food, shelter, and water. Researchers also estimate that if nothing is drastically done now, there is a possibility that about 60% of humanity in the world will be residing in water-scarce regions. The impact is enormous and unbearable: there will be a greater effect on the socio-economic wellbeing of people living in such countries. For that reason, sustainability is widely viewed as the only remedy to an increase in competition for resources (Bodart & Evrard, 2011, p. 613).

ii) Climate Change

Climate change, unquestionably, is another driving factor for sustainability. At present, large global economies, including the UK, the US, and China, are ranked among the largest greenhouse gas emitters into the atmosphere. They are estimated to release about 40% of the world’s greenhouse gasses, including Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), Nitrogen-related gasses and Carbon monoxide (CO). These emissions are usually thought to deplete the ozone layer (O3); a sheath that protects the earth’s surface from harmful ultraviolet radiations from the sun.

With its destruction, observers project a severe penalty to humanity and its environs. For instance, it is estimated that water levels in seas and oceans will rise, hence displacing human settlements living closer to seas and oceans. In addition, some feel that ice will melt in mountains so drivers will lack water. There will be barely enough water to sustain life and land for settlement will be scarce. With a projected increase in population, the world will be under siege because people will be scrambling for the limited resources. Therefore, climate change is among the main driving forces for sustainability; the need to create a safer environment for current and future populations. As such, builders need to embrace both internationally and locally better ways to minimize greenhouse gases generated from houses, either from cooking, lighting or heating equipment (Scott & Joseph, 2012, pp. 153-160).

iii) Economic Globalization

Without question, even though some dispute, integration of local or national economies into one healthy world economy brings forth unrivaled benefits, especially for weaker economies. With economic internationalization, companies can source for resources, manpower as well as skills from different countries, hence improving on their productivity. It is also commonplace for companies to set up new branches in different countries across the globe bringing forth a myriad of opportunities for the locals. However, irrespective of the various socio-economic disparities that may be present in the different countries, there are international standards that must be adhered to (The Concrete Centre, 2014).

For example, in the construction industry, it is a universal prerequisite for builders to put up safe, economical and comfortable structures. They must conform to international building codes of ethics, which advocate sustainable housing. Water must be installed; energy costs ought to be lowered, security systems must be beefed up, and ventilation and insulation have to be addressed.

iv) Technological Advancement

Technology has, undisputedly, played a crucial role in driving sustainability. New techniques are being invented and implemented every day ranging from the dynamic transport, communication, agriculture, healthcare sectors to the vibrant construction industry. They are mainly aimed at improving the present social status of humankind, but also keeping a closer eye on the wellbeing of generations to come. A good picture can is seen in the building industry, whereby more engineers are designing better ways of preserving house lighting and heating systems just to reduce expenses. Current populations are also arguably more advanced and do things differently compared to past generations. For example, a 10-storey-building-construction-plan in the 19th century is much different from a similar storey-building plan in the 21st century. The later has modern inbuilt lifts and lagging material to minimize energy loss while the former has outdated internal stairways. The difference however is the technological advancement. So, it significantly influences the sustainability (Great Britain Parliament and House of Commons, 2007, p. 181).

Local Drivers (In the UK)

The desire to bolster heating, lighting and insulation systems in the UK, who are sustainability parameters, has led to an upsurge in construction companies. Statistics shows that about 40% of the buildings in the UK were constructed in the 1930s. Therefore, need, an upgrade to meet the required sustainability drivers. Therefore, the following are some of the factors necessitating sustainability:

a) The obligation to lower energy costs

One of the local motivators to developing sustainable buildings is the need to curb the escalating energy costs. Lighting, insulation and heating are some of the thorny issues that sustainability seeks to address (Bodart & Evrard, 2011, p. 613).

b) The need to preserve the environment

Another thorny issue that is necessitating sustainability is the call for creating safer environments, not only for current generations, but also for future populations. The UK is targeting to cut its carbon emissions by a whopping 80 percent come 2050, and so landlords are highly recommended to reconsider their sustainability plans. The action will reduce the risk of depleting the ozone layer, a liable cause of global warming.

c) The desire to bolster the economy

High unemployment rate coupled with a sharp rise in energy costs is first taking a toll on the economy of the United Kingdom. Analysts feel that much needs to be done in terms of designing better strategies to conserve energy.

SECTION TWO Case Studies: Older and Latest Housing

i) A Newly Built Stock: Jubilee Library Brighton

The Jubilee Library structure, the winner of the BREEAM excellence rating, is a construction of its kind. Its state of the art wind-assisted ventilation and modern flush toilets that use recycled rainwater are just remarkable. Moreover, the use of modern yet locally available building material makes the structure unique. The building, to our surprise, yet unlike other high-tech structures, is reasonably affordable, a mere £ 9 million. The four-storey blueprint incorporates meeting rooms, reading space and staff rooms strategically placed beside a double-height reception area. Most importantly, an exposed concrete table, with fins, is centrally constructed in the space as a ventilation measure (The Concrete Centre, 2014).

- The block however encompasses a couple of sustainability plans (The Concrete Centre, 2014), and includes:
- Elaborate cooling and ventilation systems: The design uniquely incorporates three scintillating five-meter high wind blocks on the roof, as part of the passive cooling program. The wind towers work in unison, and efficiently draw heated air up and replace it with a cooler, oxygenated one. The concrete walls also play a vital role in heating the rooms. For instance, in winter, they effectively absorb heat during the day and remit at the night, keeping the rooms’ temperatures evenly distributed. Additionally, automated heat recovery systems help in harvesting heat energy from people, lighting, and Personal Computers, rechanneling it back into the system. Lastly, its energy costs are further lowered by the nature of its ultramodern air-conditioning chiller design, which maintains room temperatures at bearable states during both summer and winter (The Concrete Centre, 2014).
- A decisive and cost efficient heating system: The unit has two air-handling areas both fitted with heat revitalization or renewal structures and gas heater batteries each having a power of 50Kw. It is however important to acknowledge this feature because a building of this size usually requires a 600Kw power system. It is a very remarkable accomplishment in terms of energy saving.
- A modified lighting arrangement: The designers installed highly customized lighting systems that adjust depending on the amount of illumination available. For instance, they are brighter during nighttime and dimmer during daytime.
- Unique flush toilets that reuse rainwater: Brighton in conjunction with Hove City Council, the designers of the building, adopted the technology arguing that it helps in preserving the environment.

An Older Retrofitted Building Stock: Waltham Forest College

Fig. 2 The diagram below shows the inside outlook of the refurbished Waltham Forest College

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Before After

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Northern Forest College, built in the 1930s, is among a few institutions that have embraced new technology aimed at lifting older structures. Being among the elite institutions in North East London, the college has managed to cut energy expenses by approximately 25% since the inception of the program, which amounts to a staggering £ 127, 000 per year. The program scooped an award as the overall Non-domestic Retrofit program of the year, which is a good achievement (Wall, 2013). The following are some of the remarkable attributes of the replenished college:

- Installation of new cladding materials, which significantly minimizes heat loss hence cutting down on the cost of energy.
- Addition of energy efficient double-glazing window structure, which essentially keeps the rooms warm, secure and quite.
- Establishment of an economical heat exchange program for the swimming pool. Even though the £ 35 million venture is yet to be implemented, it will have immense benefits. For instance, it will see the installation of gas-fired systems that will utilize waste heat energy to keep the swimming pool warm.

The differences in sustainability potential between new and retrofitted building Blocks

It is very essential to acknowledge that sustainability plays a very decisive role in the construction industry. Therefore, rather than destroying older structures, perhaps for not being sustainable, governments advocate refurbishment of older structures. Currently, these arguments are commonplace and have, in fact, been discussed. However, there are notable differences in the ability of retrofitted old blocks to cause the sustainability in relation to new structures (The Concrete Centre, 2014).

Taking the above case studies to demonstrate these disparities, we can say that Jubilee building, a modern design, has greater potential in sustainability than Waltham College, the old structure. For instance, Jubilee house has a greater chance to save more lighting, heating and ventilation energy than Waltham College apartments mainly because it is a collective constitution. It implies that the newly built structures have harmonized sustainability measures that are premeditated from the time planning is done. Therefore, on construction, these management plans just fall in place without making modifications. The results are surprising. However, old blocks require extreme engineering that sometimes compromises with results, and for our case sustainability (Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2001, pp. 20-23).

For example, in the two projects discussed, Jubilee Library adequately delves into all the crucial sustainability requirements, including ventilation, water recycling, heat control, and air conditioning. For only £ 9 million the entire project is completed, which is relatively cheaper than the £ 35 million required in revamping Waltham College (Bodart & Evrard, 2011, p. 613). Difficulties and Differences in Meeting Sustainability Targets on newly erected Blocks and Older Apartments

There are a myriad of challenges, and even different, encountered in meeting sustainability targets on both older and current houses. They influence negatively on the ability of these buildings to meet their sustainability potentials or capabilities (Bodart & Evrard, 2011, p. 613). The table below shows some of the challenges hindering the government from meeting sustainability targets.

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SECTION THREE Current and Future Impacts of the Drive towards Sustainability in my Career

Current Impacts

Some of the present and future consequences of the push for sustainability in my career include:

i) An expansion of the job market, especially in areas dealing with air-conditioning and energy saving, brings with it more employment opportunities. New technologies are emerging to replace the older and outdated ones, creating more jobs for people venturing in my career (Wall, 2013).
ii) A better pay for my services. in demand for civil and construction engineers, due to a higher drive towards sustainability, directly translates to an improved pay or compensation.
iii) Improved living standards. It is as a result of the increased pay.
iv) The push for sustainability also means that

The Potential Opportunities that Retrofitting of Older Buildings might bring into my Profession

There is always a high potential that retrofitting of older structures might bring more opportunities into my profession. Some of these prospects include:

- Increased job opportunities in seismic retrofitting, including shock management strategies, is one of the benefits. Future housing blocks might require more stable pillars and earthquake-resistant walls and floors.
- A likelihood of an upsurge in demand of high-tech ventilation, heating, and insulation engineers. It is mainly because the government estimates that almost 40 percent of the total buildings in England require refitting (Pynoos, Eldman & Ahrens, 2004, p. 157).


Bodart, M & Evrard, A 2011, Architecture & Sustainable Development (vol.2): 27th International Conference on Passive and Low Energy Architecture, Presses Universitaires, Louvain-la-Neuve.

Dixon, T et al. 2014, Urban Retrofitting for Sustainability: Mapping the Transition to 2050, Routledge, New York. Print.

Federal Emergency Management Agency 2001, Engineering Principles and Practices for Retrofitting Flood-Prone Residential Structures, FEMA, Jessup. Retrieved from <>

Great Britain Parliament and House of Commons 2007, Communities and Local Government Committee Existing Housing and Climate Change: Seventh Report of Session 2007-2008, Volume Two. Retrieved from <>

Jones, ED & Williamson, J 2011, Retrofitting Suburbia, Updated Edition: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs, John Wiley & Sons, New Jersey.

Nelson, A 2007, Steering Sustainability in an Urbanization World: Policy, Practice and Performance, Ashgate Publishing Limited, Burlington.

Scott, A & Joseph, EB 2012, Renew Town: Adaptive Urbanism and the Low Carbon Community, Routledge, New York. Retrieved from <>

Pynoos, J, Eldman, H & Ahrens, J 2004, Linking Housing and Services for Older Adults: Obstacles, Options, and Opportunities, the Haworth Press, Inc. Retrieved from <>

The Concrete Centre 2014, Jubilee Library, Brighton. Retrieved from <>

Wall, M 2013, Retrofit for Purpose: Old Buildings get a Green Facelift, BBC. Retrieved from <>

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Sustainability of new and existing building stock in the UK
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Meshack Sindani (Author), 2014, Sustainability of new and existing building stock in the UK, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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