New updates to the Building Regulations go some way to cutting emissions – but construction firms have the chance to go further, argues Nicola Harrison of Bereco
July 2023 was recently confirmed as the hottest month on record – and it’s thought that it may be 120,000 years since an individual month was this warm. Although the UK hasn’t quite basked in this warmth – in fact, we had the wettest June on record and July hasn’t proved to be much drier – we’ve all seen the terrible images of wildfires in Hawaii and across the Mediterranean, and record temperatures in cities right around the world. Judging by these, if we weren’t worried before, we should be now. Climate change is real, and it’s getting more noticeable by the day.
Another statistic: according to recent analysis, the UK is eighth in a table of countries that have historically contributed the most to climate change. We aren’t the worst – step forward the US, China and Russia – but we do bear a considerable amount of responsibility for the environmental state of the planet. Therefore, the onus is on us to act on that responsibility and work hard towards achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.
What does this mean for Britain’s construction industry? Well, as most of the industry are aware, in 2022 the Government made changes to Building Regulations and announced a subsequent 12-month grace period to complete all work under the old regs. Under the title of The Future Homes and Building Standard, the swathe of regulations included new targets for carbon emissions; all new homes must produce at least 31% less carbon, while non-domestic new builds are pegged at least 27% less.
Part of the regulations focus on certain amendments to Approved Documents Part L (conservation of fuel and power) and Part F (ventilation). These changes apply to new, non-domestic buildings, plus existing non-domestic buildings, and new and existing housing.
In my sector, which centres on superior quality sustainable windows and doors, it is Part L that has the most relevance. Part L focuses closely on specific U-value requirements – the measure of how effective a material (for example a window or a door) is as an insulator. The lower the value the better the material is as an insulator.
Under the new regulations, the notional target of U-values on new-build properties for both windows and doors is now 1.2 W/m2k while the limited standard is 1.4 W/m2k. However, if you’re replacing old doors and windows in existing dwellings, the requirement should now be 1.4 W/m2k or better. It’s also worth noting that doors must now have the same U-value requirement as windows, no matter the glazing content.
Interestingly, the regulations don’t prescribe ways of achieving these targets, leaving it to the builder to decide how best to comply with them. Ultimately, the focus will be on making improvements to the fabric of the building by embracing high-performance and energy-efficient materials and technologies. Which, to be fair, many companies involved in the windows and doors market already do. Generally, U-values are far lower now than they were just five years ago – a combination of better technology and more awareness – but as a sector we could do even better.
At Bereco, sustainability is at the heart of everything we do. We try to make a difference, as opposed to just delivering it, by thinking about every aspect of our business, from obtaining our wood via sustainable forests to issues around packaging, transport, and supply chain ethics.
You won’t be surprised to learn that we’re passionate about spreading the good news about timber usage. Personally, I’ve seen how much timber products can benefit everyone, from the sustainable forests we purchase from to the builder able to access resources quicker with faster labour times. I believe that timber is the best option and investment for windows and doors.
You might argue, ‘she would say that,’ and, of course, I recognise that timber is still seen as a premium product, so many construction firms use recycled PVCu or aluminium as a matter of course. But what else can we do as a sector?
We could start by looking at our premises. As we’re trying to build sustainably, it would make sense that onsite accommodation is as energy efficient as possible. It might even be worth considering a move to offsite construction, which leads to less onsite waste and reduced impact of onsite activities including transportation and heavy use of machinery. A more sustainable policy towards the disposal of construction waste is another idea; by embedding sustainable principles into how we deal with waste, we’re helping to reduce the disposal of waste overall – a significant contributor to emissions.
This embedded approach can also be extended to the issues of transportation and supply chains. With the former, considering a switch to more fuel-efficient vehicles, along with sourcing local materials, can reduce emissions associated with onsite and offsite movements. A supply chain can be made more sustainable by using recycled materials, while as far as possible not using plastic, and committing to small wins such as taking back and reusing timber pallets.
A sustainable approach requires a certain amount of thought and a level of commitment that may take some getting used to. However, in the long run, the benefits are worthwhile, and not just for the environment. Customers see the value of a greener approach to construction and, by all accounts, are happy to pay a little extra, even in tough times, to help us all keep our carbon footprint to a minimum. Watching Hawaiian and Greek islands burn is not a pleasant experience – yet such images just might be the wake-up call we all need if we are to change our approaches and survive global warming.
Nicola Harrison is managing director of Bereco