Forget Energy Efficiency think Health!

Readers of this blog will know my views on lots of the energy driven ‘improvements’ that we are blindly doing in the UK at the moment.

We are making so many mistakes due to the fact that we are using more than useless techniques, materials etc in a slap dash manner. All of this is being done with the best intentions, but we are storing up many problems for the future by our haste and lack of underpinning knowledge.

In years to come we shall look back at this period in our history and hang our heads in shame, I think that in the worse case scenarios it will be regarded as a modern day ‘asbestos’ story.

So how can we change and do this better?

Well, a very easy way would be to think about it all in a very different manner.

At the moment all we can think about is energy bills, carbon reduction, fuel poverty and regeneration. None of these things are bad, but they do drive us into solutions that are not fit for purpose. For any readers not up to speed here there are fundamental flaws with how we measure energy efficiency in buildings (especially older ones), how we measure thermal efficiency in walls and also more importantly how awful we are when it comes to moisture. Have a look at the STBA reports on thermal and moisture measuring for more info.

Now DECC know all of this stuff – the STBA have told them, but it takes a long time to change Standards, Conventions, a whole industry! And then there is the political fallout! So basically we will have to wait a long time before we manage to make things better, so in the meantime we shall continue to make lots of mistakes and install lots of inappropriate measures.

So, as a proposal, should we not think about Health.

To have a healthy internal environment we need to provide:

  • Fresh clean air
  • Stable Relative Humidity (around 50-60%)
  • No mould or damp
  • Comfortable internal temperatures that are not prone to overheating
  • Sufficient natural light
  • Low toxicity in materials
  • No off-gassing from materials
  • A long term solution that maintains these conditions

To do this we need to have items like:

  • Breathable walls (where they were designed to breathe)
  • Insulation that is suitable
  • Good ventilation that is controlled by Internal Air Quality systems
  • Natural materials used
  • Low / Non toxic materials used
  • Good quality installers / builders

So the basic idea is that, if we can create safe, comfortable and healthy internal environments then energy efficiency comes as a by-product of this process / specification. So we would create good internal environments that are suitable for human beings. Isn’t this the point of a building in the first place – to create a safe, sheltered and nice place to spend time with loved ones?

Won’t it be great to look at a building and think ‘how can I make this a really great place to live?’ The satisfaction in making a house a home that you would want to live in and enjoy. After all someone has to live there and shouldn’t we make it as healthy, homely and safe as possible?

However if we work within our current unrealistically blinkered parameters we shall just produce internal environments that help to burden the NHS and also provide people with poor quality of domestic life.

So lets start to put people first and I wouldn’t mind betting that we shall be able to not only provide high quality space, but also save more money in the long term and reduce CO2.

Wales is in an ideal place to make this happen, but we need to drop using dangerous tools like rdSAP and also BS5250, especially for older buildings.