The 7 essential elements that make your building sustainable

Most self builders are creating buildings to last long after they have gone and are often keen to explore proven (often traditional based) and beneficial building systems that would not necessarily be offered by a developer or volume house builder. So what’s involved in building green?

1. Use enough insulation - most buildings are built with too little
Simply stated, the more insulation you incorporate into the structural elements of your home (such as the walls, roof and floor), the more heat it will retain and the more efficient it will be in use, don’t forget to consider using insulation with good acoustic properties too. This is not an area to scrimp on or to cut corners it is one of the few things that is near impossible to put right cheaply later, without serious disruption, once your building is complete, when was the last time you heard someone complain they had "over insulated" their house?  Find out more here

2. Design in airtightness  - build tight ventilate right is the mantra
Fewer gaps in your home’s structural envelope mean less heat lost to the outside world. Good air tightness maximises the efficiency of insulation and reduces fuel bills.Ventilation can be passive, mechanical or both this will need to be part of your design. Find out more here

3. Use the buildings thermal mass to best effect
Materials such as masonry, brick and concrete create 'thermal mass' in a building which can absorb warmth from the sun’s rays (or other heat sources) during the day and release it into the home as external temperatures drop – helping to maintain a comfortable internal environment. Many natural building products (typically natural insulation materials) enhance thermal mass and help the building moderate the internal environment. Used correctly, this thermal store can help to reduce energy consumption. Find out more here

4. Make the best use of natural light
Maximising the amount of natural light in your home – through good use of windows, roof lights, sun pipes, etc – will help to reduce your need for artificial lighting. Windows and doors form a part of the building shell so the use of performance  timber windows and triple glazing can really help the building's overall thermal performance. Modern performance windows can be very efficient with whole window U values as low as 0.8W/m2K. 'Solar gain' or heat captured through windows from the sun can be used to help heat a building and combined with thermal mass to help reduce heating bills. The fitting of windows is a key part of ensuring long lasting building performance, as they form a critical part of the building shell. This is another area where buying too cheap is a false economy. Find out more here.

5.  Choose green and sustainable materials
There are various ways to ensure the products and materials you use are as green as possible, as the building becomes more energy efficient and demands less power the proportion of the carbon (and potential to pollute) embodied in the building materials becomes a greater proportion of the whole and so the choice of natural materials becomes more important. We also think that natural materials offer proven performance and are better for the environment. Find out more here

6. Structural systems - choose your system early in the design process
All construction systems can be adapted to meet good levels of energy efficiency, but some lend themselves more immediately to hitting the highest standards. Ecomerchant support a fabric first approach to building where the Getting the choice right early on is critical, the most popular systems amongst our customers are:
Timber frame
Insulated concrete formwork (ICF)
Monolithic – clay blocks
Brick and block.
Block and block
Find out more here

7.  Deploy renewable technologies only after your shell design is complete
Eco-minded self builders and renovators have led the way in terms of adopted renewable technologies, and their efforts could help you pick the right options for your home: the golden rule here is design the building to do the work - see the illustration below - then match your energy needs to that level.

Among the most popular technologies are solar photo voltaic panels, solar thermal panels, biomass boilers and ground-source or air-source heat pumps. Other renewable options include off grid sewage treatment and rainwater harvesting. Find out more here

These 7 basic principles when combined with the methodology illustrated below should ensure that performance, quality and comfort are all delivered on any sustainable build.


Ecomerchant infographic-page-001

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