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24 Jul

Zero Carbon Housing?

As the discussions regarding zero carbon housing continue, an interesting article appeared on the BBC website this week:

The article comments on Cardiff University's Zero Carbon 'Bridgend House' reportedly built for £1000/sq.m.

Zero Carbon or Zero Energy houses do not require any energy to provide heating or hot water. Our own regulations mirror those in the UK significantly, however, the cost associated with achieving Zero Carbon status has prompted the UK's Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, to scrap plans to implement standards requiring a zero carbon status by 2016. The 'Bridgend House' claims to export energy back to the national grid - in summer but needs to import energy in the winter. So the question; is this really a Zero Carbon house? 

Benchmark Property manage the prestigious Elm Park Business Campus where the commercial buildings have been designed to utilise natural ventilation. The scheme also benefits from a Central Energy Centre also known as a District Heating Centre. To achieve the conditions suitable for natural ventilation, the buildings run north/south to minimise sunlight across the large glazed facades. The form of the business campus therefore follows the function - in the words of the great Chicago architect Louis Sullivan. 

With the debate on Zero Carbon housing running, we should not lose sight of the need to produce good design. The 'Bridgend House' may meet the standards [in summer] but is this at the expense of design quality? Architects have a responsibility to both the urban and rural environment and must respond to setting, existing built environments and topography. 

We should continue to strive toward a near Zero Carbon or Passive house but not at the expense of good design. 

Technology has provided architects with tools to improve energy consumption and areas such as solar harnessing and heat recovery are developing almost as fast as the smart phone. We have made great leaps in reducing energy consumption but no-one can legislate for the open window. Before the Building Regulations Technical Guidance Document Part L is further developed, we should ask the question; at what cost to design standards and architectural quality of the built environment?


John Murray RIBA
Benchmark Property