Sometimes here at Thir13en, we just have to laugh… there are so many people out there that seemingly overnight have become ‘experts’ from anything eco / green / environment / sustainability to low-carbon solutions etc., that it truly is very difficult to figure out how to separate the wheat from the chaff!
From the Latin word for experience, an expert is someone who has a great deal of knowledge, skill, and time in a given field. There is nothing inherently extraordinary about an expert. It’s simply a matter of dedication, time, and passion. These qualities are what set them apart from their colleagues, so we don’t like to disparage people that mean well.
At Thir13en we simply just don’t take anyone’s word for anything, per se, as having gone through these processes for a couple of decades experience has taught us not to involve anyone that is not independently certified by Government or Industry Trade Associations’ approved parties in regards to anything as important as building a structure. This is, after all, most people’s largest investment within their lifetime, and can be major investments for corporate activities.
The founder of Thir13en was involved in low-carbon, sustainable building materials, materials creation and destruct testing with the creation of sustainable building systems long before it was considered to be the ‘cool’ thing to do, and way before building regulations made it a requirement.
We hear all the time that this product, or that solution, is the best thing since sliced bread, and sometimes it is… but many times it can be just clever marketing using the right ‘green’ language. Back prior to the late ‘90s the UK construction industry basically carried on as they had been for ages, adopting change very late into the game, and only as it saved the developer or the contractor money. There were very few professionals promoting sustainability, and contractors didn’t like adapting to meet those requirements, while vested interests lobbied the Government to keep things as they were and restrict the advent of new solutions into the industry.
Politics aside, Government Regulations initially based on Climate Warming agreements has changed all that, and our community is and will be so much better for it, and surprisingly to many the construction industry has risen admirably to the challenge. This does not mean that all structures are as sustainable as they could be, but the change within the industry is quite noticeable and most major players now consist of multi-skilled professionals that actually know exactly what they are speaking of, instead of chaff!
Bolting-on solutions to old designs is not the same as using a holistic sustainable approach through an Integrated Design Process, however, and this is the latest challenge facing the industry. The Government has realised that this process is so much more than just reducing a carbon footprint, and is working with the now-convinced and committed construction industry to making a serious difference, which benefits all.
Tailored solutions in an integrated design process starts with minimalistic site/civils impacts, followed by low impact insulated foundations and a ‘fabric first’ approach. An appropriate air-tight thermal shell will change the requirements of a structure, allowing the structure to have a controlled micro-climate which in turn changes a design team’s solutions in regards to heating, ventilating and cooling the structure. As this can be very energy efficient and cost-effective to run, the energy requirement of the structure is significantly reduced. Further structural energy requirements can be reduced as well, such as in the provision of hot water, lighting and any recycling solutions being specified, thereby ensuring that most of the energy requirements are for appliances and communication equipment, which is occupant dependent.
Solutions exist that reduces or obviates the requirement of capital equipment for solar panels (hot water) or biomass boilers as the integrated design processes solutions are more cost-effective in the short and the long run, yet photovoltaic panels that produce electricity along with battery storage can go a long way to ensure independence from the grid dependent upon an occupants lifestyle. This may not be true for commercial structures, but it certainly is for residential occupancies, where families take on responsibility for their own environment.
DYNAMIC SOLUTIONS FOR A BETTER BUILT ENVIRONMENT, TODAY!
Innovation in home construction may have been seen as a misnomer in the past, as we all knew that a home is a home and it is up to the occupant to make it homely, right? Wrong! Technology and thermal understandings have led to millions of people living in comfort in more difficult climates than our own, without undue energy bills or a serious environmental impact, simply because their homes were built to be efficient in many areas, before one even considered the choices in regards to internal design.
The simple fact of the matter is that if one concentrates initially on the thermal shell (‘fabric-first’) in which one makes one’s home, the image and layout of external and inner design to one’s desire or to meet planning approvals can be implemented at a later stage. In the first instance, it is imperative to engineer that thermal shell to behave in an appropriate manner to achieve a micro-climate which can easily be controlled as this becomes the key to future-proofing a home while ensuring that fuel poverty needs not arise.
The thermal shell is the key to all that comes later… It needs to be highly insulative, inert, weatherproof, air-tight, have zero percent interstitial condensation, be load-bearing to handle intermediate floors and loads, strong enough to hang furniture (kitchens, bathrooms et al), be resistant to micro-organisms, fire-resistant, with even temperature distribution regardless of which direction a wall or roof faces, while suppressing noise from the exterior.
This is achieved through system dynamics in the knowledge of materials (physical, environmental and economic impacts), and how those materials work in conjunction with lambda, psi (y-value) and u-values, condensation issues, potential deterioration or longevity, mechanical control systems, et al.
Ultra-Low-Energy Comfort Heating
Innovation is normally not just a matter of a solitary genius coming up with a brilliant invention because he or she is smarter than everyone else… This is because ideas are fundamentally networks of other ideas. At Thir13en, we take the tools, concepts and scientific understanding of time, and we reformulate them into something that meets and normally exceeds the requirements of our time.
But if you don’t have the right building blocks so to say, you can’t make the breakthrough in a commercially satisfactory manner, however brilliant you might be. As our knowledge expanded in the 18th Century with the steam engine forcing engineers to figure out exactly how heat and energy are converted, a whole new science of thermodynamics was ‘invented’ and by 1850 the innovation pieces had started to come together, leading to an industrial age around the world.
The same applies to the understanding of a micro-climate in a home. From the creation of high-rise and skyscraper buildings, the tools, the engineering, the materials knowledge and the concepts have all coalesced into what we now call low carbon, energy efficient homes.
The ’Build Tight, Insulate Right’ concept works to best effect alongside a heating system that satisfies a very low heating demand, thereby meeting or exceeding the requirements of both PassivHaus and The Code for Sustainable Homes…
For example, a hypothetical 118m² two-storey, three bedroom PassivHaus British Home has a maximum space heating requirement of 15kWh/m²/annum, however we can do better with a maximum space heating requirement of 3kWh/m²/annum: A super-insulated, air-tight house of this size would require minimal heating (at least 90% less than traditional consumption). Most heat needed is created by controlled solar gain, the occupants’ themselves and their cooking, showering, use of appliances and the like and this heat is retained within the building due to super-insulation, air-tightness and the use of a high-efficiency Appendix Q Accredited Mechanical Ventilation Heat Recovery (MVHR) system which retains the heat and infuses the home with it to one’s set temperature, while exhausting humidity and soiled or stale air.
The total heat demand will be 10W/m² when the outside temperature is minus 10ºC, which equates [for a floor area of 118m2] to a total peak heat demand from a standing start of 1.18kW, while nominally in the UK an average heat demand will be less than 3kW/m² for this type of a super-insulated thermal shell.
A standard one-bar electric fire gives an output of 1kW… So the total space heating need of a super-insulated Home is only slightly higher than one bar of an electric fire, and it needs not be used longer than it takes the home to get up to temperature.
An average house of the same size might typically use a 15kW boiler wherein the super-insulated Home would have a much lower space heating requirement, thereby changing it’s mechanical requirements. We at Thir13en recommend that a super-insulated home has a 300l capacity requirement for hot water (baths, showers and washing up etc.) in conjunction with a heat-exchanging pump using the same hot water tank under the eaves combined with an external thermodynamic panel, for significant increased energy efficiency at very little extra cost, while through a proprietary condenser solution solving the provision of the heating requirements as well.
While all boilers’ outputs significantly exceed our requirements for hot water, and there would not be a requirement for a ‘wet’ water heating system via radiators for heating a super-insulated Home, we may still need to assist a little bit with the heating output, for when the windows have been opened all day for example. For example, the space heating system may consist of a variable water based 1.5kW duct heater installed in the supply side duct of the MVHR system through a diverter – to assist in the quicker heating of the fresh ventilation supply air. In addition, the tenant may expect two heated towel rails, one in the kitchen and one in the family bathroom. That’s all that is really necessary, for a super-insulated house, dependent upon design.
Ensuring Air-Tightness is Critical
The superior air-tightness of a super-insulated home coupled with the MCVHR™ (Micro-Climate Ventilation Heat Recovery™) and the heater battery will deliver more than the 1.18kW of space heating needed and ensure a future-proofed low-cost temperature-comfort home.
The unusual aspect of the heating design is the duct heater (or heater battery as it is sometimes called). Using a heater battery in the ventilation ducting means that the supply air is heated by the variable water based heater battery (which is far more energy efficient than electric or gas heating solutions) without needing to increase the ventilation rate.
Solar gain and poor design may at times cause overheating especially due to super-insulation and air-tightness. The MVHR or MCVHR™ provide summer-bypass whereby the supply air is not pre-heated by the exhaust air, and this can work in reverse wherein a duct heater is connected to the cold water tank, thereby acting as a cooling function.
In addition to summer-bypass, the appropriate MVHR or MCVHR™ provides the tenant with a ‘purge’ function which increases the ventilation through the system thereby purging the building. This can also be controlled by humidity and CO2 sensors, as required and recommended. To reemphasise, there is now an accepted adage in the industry; ‘build it tight and ventilate right!’ Appendix Q accredited 90%+ MVHR systems used within superior airtight dwellings provide the lowest Dwelling CO2 Emission Rates (DER’s).
The BRE comparison of Appendix Q [which was way ahead of its time] illustrated that an airtight dwelling of 1m³ of air permeability per m² of envelope [under pressurisation] which used a minimum of 90% efficient MVHR has a significantly improved SAP score compared to passive ventilation or other systems, along with the corresponding energy efficiency.
We at Thir13en could go on and on about tried, true and tested solutions that complements energy-efficient eco-solutions within the building sector, but suffice it, for now, to just say that the aforementioned thermal shell, ventilation and affordable hot water solutions is the most important aspect of a build to take into consideration; everything else relates to the decisions taken in this regard.
Having said that, it doesn’t hurt to valiantly follow the principles of PITCCH as proposed by The Innovative Brain© at www.newandimproved.com, as condensed for us below:
Passion – Aligning your (and others’) work with what creates meaning.
Integrity – Doing what you say you’ll do.
Tenacity – Persistently and doggedly pursuing an option or solution until it succeeds and/or others see the value of it.
Courage – Being brave about pursuing options that are risky, novel, or untried.
Curiosity – Being interested in new ways of doing things, unusual approaches, or things that are outside of your area of expertise. Constantly learning.
Humility – Recognising that ideas can come from other people. A willingness to change your mind, being able to admit mistakes when you make them, and being willing to learn from the mistakes of others, rather than punishing them.
Of these six values, we list Humility last for two reasons: 1) it’s the foundation of, and energises, the other five, and 2) that way, with the other values, it spells out a catchy acronym (P-I-T-C-C-H). Remember the acronym the next time you find yourself requesting something (or listening to a request) to get better performance and innovation from your organisation. Start with the foundation – be humble. Like a building, you need a strong base on which to build, which brings us to the cornerstone of innovation leadership.
Aside from this, further specific and approved solutions abound within the construction and building industries, depending upon one’s requirements, and we are more than happy to assist in the setting up of an appropriate Integrated Design Process with an Architect to provide these solutions to satisfy a client’s demands.
Just as the laws of thermodynamics have changed the way everyone lives, Climate Change and the energy crisis is driving us towards a low-carbon existence by driving us towards low energy demand homes.
Please feel free to contact us with your thoughts, frustrations, concerns, designs or just to have a chat, as building environmentally responsibly is our driving concern.
If you want to learn more in this regard, please review http://www.thir13ensolutions.com/positive-energy-homes by clicking on the link, or as below…