Collaboration in the Industry

Yesterday I was part of a panel speaking at Nottingham Trent University (The Poly to me). It was a session looking at how collaboration works (or doesn’t) in our industry. Actually I was a bit of a lone voice as the audience and some of my fellow panel members were quite ‘building’ focussed.


There was an interesting question put to us; “Do we need Universities any more – can we teach people via Apprenticeships and on-the-job training“. At first sight this is a fair point. Particularly in my profession. Some of the work I do could be taught in an office. Some of what we do can best be described as a process. So yes part could be learned.

But a profession is more than just a process. The joy of my work is that I am sometimes challenged to think. To come up with solutions. Solve problems.

I was asked in the week on another occasion whether any of what I learned at the Poly was ever used by me? Well it is. The core skills I learned about technique I use most days. The the legal framework in which we operate hasn’t changed much (other than the odd bit of case law) and I use that a lot. My knowledge of building construction still is critical to my day job.

So my view is that we do need Universities to train our future surveyors to think. To grasp the core skills of building construction, measurement, value and the law. Understand how property works as an asset class. We can collaborate with the learning institutions to make sure these skills are delivered to make surveyors employable.

What I don’t think Universities can do is teach ‘commerciality’ and I guess that only 1 in 10 graduates enter our office with it. We can probably teach it to another 4 and the rest will probably never get it. That may be tough – but I suggest is true.

The Bin madness?

The leaves haven’t quite fallen from my trees yet and the grass still grows. The garden will need it’s winter tidy in the next couple of weeks – usually just before Bonfire Night! Then we can lock the garden down ready for the dark nights and grey days – for it all to start again next Spring.

A couple of years ago I was bemoaning the fact that we had three bins – and I know I’m lucky as some people have many more (unsure of the collective noun for bins – a Laden perhaps?). But we have grown used to the bi-weekly collections – even if I do have to check the colours of bins out on the road before I commit to traipsing mine out in the dark of night.

A couple of weeks ago I was astounded to find the Government suggesting they would re-introduce weekly collections at a cost of £250m. This is madness. Just after we have got in the habit of separating the stuff and living with longer collection gaps.

But more mad is that the City Council have decided I don’t need my garden waste collecting between 28 October and sometime unspecified day next April! The good news is that I can drive the waste to the recycling centre in Lenton. That’s certainly “green”!

I can only assume that this is part of the massive cost cutting exercise going on. The cuts are fine but, in this instance, rather misplaced. It’s a backward step. And one I don’t “get”. Am wondering if I should put the leaves in the green bin, after all they were the same colour at one time?

PS If this gives you the impression I am a gardener, I’m not.

Just what is a sustainable development?

From my last weeks posts you will know that I spoke at a conference in Istanbul two weeks ago. The theme of the conference was ‘sustainable energy technologies’.

I have spoken to a lot of people since I returned (justifying my ‘holiday’ mostly). But it occurs to me that people, generally, don’t understand what we mean by sustainable buildings or developments. Most, understandably, go to the ‘solution’ – solar panels or loft insulation. They understand these to an extent.

We do have some major issues in identifying what sustainability actually means. There are lots of other labels too – green buildings, low energy buildings, carbon neutral, zero carbon, Code 4 homes, BREEAM excellent offices… The list goes on. And it’s not always helpful.

One of the things we had an issue with when trying to capture data for my research paper was how you identify a ‘more sustainable’ building. It is not an easy test – you can read it – if you have time in the paper here.

In fact the most established definition of sustainable development is often quoted as the ‘Bruntland Commission’ from 1987,

Development ..”that meets the need of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”

So, that’s the easy bit. The next bit – how do we measure it and make those measurements easily understood by all? In my industry we are having to get to grips with it. But I have realised in the last week or so, that people generally have no idea about what is being done around them to try and reduce our ‘footprint’. They hear the buzz-words, but these are just that. They offer no clarity, no help. They are good for marketing but not much else?

We have some way to go… The story needs to be clear. It also needs to be widely understood if it is to have any effect?

The green agenda – tread lightly?

We seem to be bombarded with sticks and carrots in the property industry. We are told that almost half of the UK’s carbon emissions come from buildings. So it is my industry that can make a difference.

Is this a picture of global warming? It didn't feel like it....

The Government are trying to impose rules on the Industry for new buildings – especially in the housing sector where Zero Carbon is a target for 2016 for anything newly built. In the commercial sector we are required to provide Energy Performance Certificates for sales and lettings. It has been suggested that by 2018 it will be illegal to let commercial properties with an “F” or “G” rating.

On the other hand we have the feed-in tariff for those with solar panels – a technology that allows you to sell your excess electricity back to the grid.

Putting to one side the questions over the validity of the arguments about the damage we are (allegedly) doing to the planet, the messages we get and guidelines we have to operate by can be confusing to say the least. The lack of clarity does nothing to help us make choices.

But, if you take a step back – it probably isn’t a bad thing that we should reduce our footprint. Not just on the resources we are consuming but generally on the planet. The resources are scarce and the real test is when we see prices of gas and electricity increase – last weeks suggestion of 18/20% increases this winter will start to hurt.

So perhaps the message needs to be a little more realistic. Rather than zero carbon, perhaps we should try to ‘tread lightly’. To think about what we do. But at the same time acknowledge that in some situations we can do little to get to zero carbon. In my business we spend our lives driving to property – it isn’t practical to use public transport. We do where we can (commuting to London as an example).

Tread lightly – I like that. Now I need to lose some (more) weight….

By Tim Garratt Posted in Nottingham Tagged BREEAM, Carbon Cycle, Carbon Management, , EPC, Global Warming, Greenhouse gas, Low-carbon economy, , Tread Lightly, zero carbon

The next big thing?

Like most people in my Industry the ‘green’ agenda pops up quite frequently. I have taken an interest of late, partly as I have been working with the University of Nottingham on whether ‘green buildings‘ are attracting a premium. That work is coming to an end and I will post the results here shortly.

I am always interested in some of the new thinking in trying to reduce our carbon footprints.

I met Hydra Renewable Resources a couple of weeks ago. They are a Canadian based company who are looking at wastewater management. Their starting point it to protect our scarcest resource – water. They also look to extract or harvest the wastewater stream itself. They have a three pronged approach…

Firstly, they treat wastewater to a level and standard that greatly exceeds the minimum recyclable standards, this treated water can be effectively recycled back into the system. This water can replace the drinkable water currently being used for agricultural irrigation, toilet flushing and many industrial applications, effectively reducing demand for potable water by around 40%

Then sludge, the bi-product of the sanitation process, is also used. They use sludge as feedstock to their reactors and create methane, which in turn powers in-house generators. This process can generate enough electricity effectively take the treatment facility off the power grid, completely eliminating the operating costs of electricity as well as the added cost of discarding sludge.

Finally wastewater comes into a treatment facility relatively warm. This thermal resource is normally ignored. But by using radiators and a closed loop distribution system the heat is harnessed and can be used to supply heating, cooling and hot water for residential, commercial and industrial projects. Each treatment facility can harvest this resource in quantities equivalent to approximately 20% of the heating, cooling and hot water requirements of the source city.

This sort of company are pushing the boundaries of the technology; I am looking forward to working with Hydra! This may well be the next big thing!

The carbon question…

Chris Huhne seems to be in trouble with the Mail on Sunday – who have devoted a number of weeks column inches in trying to bring him down for allegedly getting his wife to take his speeding points.

But there was a sideshow in this weeks paper which levelled an attack on him for the work he is doing on the UK’s green agenda. His Carbon Budget commits the UK to reducing its carbon output by 50% over the next 14 years. A tall order.

What was really interesting about the article was the language – it was suggested that in the policy-making bubble of the Palace of Westminster it is “settled” that there is such a thing as ‘global warming’. Even the most vocal of global warriors dislike the phrase and say the Scientific community don’t know for certain – it is work in progress. And the University of East Anglia (who were at the centre of the last ‘data’ storm) have now suggested that there has been ‘no statistically’ significant increase in global temperatures since 1995…

I have always been a sceptic of some of the stories that are put about. The low point was the Al Gore ‘An Inconvenient Truth‘ shambles. Someone should have told us it was a work of fiction – we all thought it was a documentary.

At the back of my mind is that we should take care of the planet – and shoving pollution out can’t be good in the long term. But we have to make sure that what is being done is relevant. If the UK ‘only’ contributes 2% of the Worlds emissions we need to prioritise. None of the big polluters (The USA, China or India) have carbon reduction commitments – if they did so, it would have an impact. Until you realise that the human race only account for 3% of the total carbon dioxide produced…

My research work on the correlation of values on green buildings is nearly complete – and it seems to show that the commercial markets are not buying into green buildings – but more of that later.

I have always said that we really do need some clear Scientific evidence to demonstrate that we are causing the problems. Then we can respond accordingly, but in the meantime – we will just go around in circles?

Valuation – beautiful simplicity?

You probably already know that I value buildings as part of my job. And I have an interest in green buildings – particularly the relationship of ‘greenness’ and value.

Valuation can sometimes be complex, but on occasion there is a simplicity which can be quite stark. I drew this picture above to a group of people at the conference I was at in Shanghai. Whilst I ‘think’ in pictures, many of them didn’t, but immediately spotted the issue.

There is a difference between the cost of a building and its value. We measure buildings differently for each. For cost we generally take the external dimensions. For value we take the internal measurements. If in my simple buildings above suggest £200 per unit to build and £325 per unit of value, the calculations will be 12x12x200 = £28,800 for cost to build and the resultant value is 10x10x325 = £32,500.

One of the big ‘easy’ solutions for buildings is to improve insulation. We are told that this single element could reduce our carbon footprint by the most significant amount.

So my ‘green’ building on the right has walls twice as thick – allowing for extra insulation.

The calculations – as you can see – build costs are the same but the value is 8x8x325=£20,800. Not only is this £11,700 less, but the builder loses £8,000!

I accept that I have simplified the calculations, but you can see that simply increasing the insulation depth has a significant effect on value.

We still have a lot to do in trying to increase the thermal efficiency of a building – whilst making sure that the usable space delivers value.

Simple really!

The green agenda carrot and stick

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!

Growing Old Disgracefully…lots of us!

I think this is the maxim for later life. And according to some new statistics 2 million people who are now 50 will reach the age of 100.

Thats a lot of people behaving badly!

Coupled with this is that sometime during 2011 the population of the world is expected to hit 7 billion people. In context the population in 1960 was 3 billion. By 2045, on current estimates, there will be 9 billion people sharing the planet.

So, were getting older and there’s going to be an awful lot more of us.

The question that is exercising some people is can the the human population be sustained on the planet?

I think that the answer is a guarded yes.

But the way in which we live and consume will need to change. If we are going to live to 100, we are unlikely to be able to make sufficient money in our (short) working lives to live on for a 35 year retirement (Assuming we get jobs aged 24/5 and retire at 65). 40 years of work to pay for 35 years of retirement doesn’t add up.

It’s no wonder the Government have scrapped the ‘default retirement age’.

We aren’t going to be able to consume in the same way either – particularly in our use of fossil fuels. We will need to kerb our carbon emissions to avoid mass global warming. Our insatiable appetite for consumer goods will challenge our natural resources.

But the reason I don’t see armageddon is that we have been pretty good at adapting – that’s what we humans do best. The population of the world in 1930 was 2 billion and scholarly folk at that time were concerned about population growth.

But the key word is adaptation – we need to radically think about our impact on the world we live in. Unfortunately we need to do this soon – as this stuff is all likely to happen in our lifetimes…