I was at an interesting event a couple of weeks ago. It was a Nottingham Green Tech Business network event at Bio City. A panel of assembled luminaries shared their collective experiences of how we were moving towards greener buildings – and housing in particular.
It became clear during the discussion that things need to change. There is talk that within the next few years the cost of energy will sky-rocket – and an average home will need between £3,000 and £5,000 a year to stay warm and lit. There is a real danger of fuel poverty in the not too distant future.
Legislation (the stick) is driving some of agenda – particularly in housing. Zero Carbon is the target. But as was pointed out, zero carbon does not equal zero fuel bills. And it is not the whole answer. We have become quite obsessed with our carbon footprint, but in reality the building fabric we construct is also of importance. This is where the discussion was centered – the overwhelming view was that we need to re-think the way in which we put buildings together and erect them. Our problem may be in the way we prefer to see our buildings – with brick skins…
I have been a sceptic of some of the technology we are using. Eco-bling is a big market, but it can only be part of the solution. Just because a house has solar panels, ground source heat pumps, triple glazing doesn’t automatically win brownie points at the green awards. Human behaviour plays a huge part. Both general education, but specific learning of how systems work is critical. There was little point one of the panel suggested in having a green tech piece of kit with a switch – when the switch had been wrongly identified as an immersion heater! They didn’t understand why their bills were going up!
I thought the most interesting question was ‘how do we cost-effectively improve our existing housing stock’. The answer was ‘insulation and draught-proofing’. These relatively simple measure would make an enormous difference to a households energy consumption. The amusing finding in one study was that in some areas where free loft insulation had been offered, residents take up was poor – because, when quizzed, they said that it was a lot of hassle to clear the loft!
I may well be in the latter camp!