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How Do You Practice What You Preach?

10 Feb 2019 at 3:49 PM

“80% of the UK’s 2050 housing stock has already been built.”

A familiar mantra….but what about the rest of the buildings – the thousands upon thousands of commercial spaces we occupy? It’s the same story, sometimes we have to make do with what we’ve got.

Photo 10-02-2017, 14 46 59At BE we now know exactly what this means – our Dorset team moved into new offices in 2016.

It’s a converted 12th century stable block with solid stone walls, electric panel heating and plenty of single glazing.

The building has an EPC rating of ‘E’ – towards the very lowest echelons of what is legally acceptable under the 2018 MEES regulations.

That means the landlord has no obligation to improve anything for energy efficiency. So it’s the obvious choice for a consultancy championing an energy conscious, sustainable built environment! On the face of it, we’re not working very sustainably – or are we?

You could argue, that if we don’t take it, someone else will. They may not feel quite the same way about saving the planet – they might open a datacentre right? “At least we’ll be good tenants, we’ll look after the old thing and be responsible”.file4

BREEAM tells us that sustainability is all about health, wellbeing and low environmental impact. Most would agree they sound like very agreeable things indeed. But how does this actually work in the real world when we’re faced with an empty building?

This is what the decision making process looked like for us….

We firstly want a great location for our team, a place where we can be healthy, happy and productive. There is a lack of available commercial space in our town, and we didn’t want to move far because we didn’t want our staff to have to commute longer distances than they already did.file8

Many of us either walk, cycle or take public transport to work and we feel pretty good about that. So although we found good premises further away, they were not accessible and required more car journeys and more traffic jams.

So they were out. You keep looking for a couple of years, but most of the prospects are not big enough, too big, too expensive or just too depressing.

So you find a perfect building – it’s full of character, like a church…..beautifully old and perched by the water. It’s within an easy cycle or walk. You could kayak in the summer and hold team meetings on the green whilst we picnic. Wellbeing? Check. Healthy? Check.

file2That same building is also cold and badly insulated, it might be damp. The windows are draughty, and small, so needs a lot of artificial light. It’s also owned by someone else so you’d have very little opportunity (or economic motivation) to change anything. It’s also at great risk of flooding due to its proximity to the often flooded quay. We are not supposed to be living on flood plains any more…

It’s going to need a lot of heating during the winter, at least in working hours, but due to its thermal mass – hulking thick solid stone walls – it will offer us some help.

The walls retain the days warmth from the heaters, equipment and metabolic heat (body heat) and do a decent job of holding it in at night. It is very shady and cool in the summer, absorbing the suns energy in its natural storage tanks. Overheating wont be an issue here. Not so bad!

We don’t know where we’ll be or what sort of space we’ll need in 5 years, and being tenants, we can’t make an economic case for replacing the old electric panel heaters without the landlords help.

The previous tenant had also left two gas fires, obviously intended to give a boost on the very bitter days. These ran on 25kg bottles of Butane. Some quick sums established that we’re just as well off (financially) using small portable electric convectors for a boost on the really cold days – and they don’t create damp like gas does. So the gas has gone.

Water heating? A fairly up to date, instantaneous point of use type of unit servicing two W/C s and a kitchenfile6

Construction wise, we would never wish to cover up the stone walls with internal insulation, even if we could come up with a business case to the landlord – it’s just one of those aesthetic things you’d feel terrible about. Although it’s not a listed building, it feels like it should be.

There is no opportunity to improve the floors or vaulted roof, having been averagely upgraded 5-10 years ago. The glazing is a possibility – there’s a case for replacing some of the old single glazing as some of the frames are looking weary… this is one thing we are definitely pursuing with the landlord. Again secondary glazing could well be a good idea but we like the reveals too much to do it!

Solar PV is out of the question due to a North facing, very overshaded roof. Ditto solar thermal.file3

The lighting is the best news – amongst this bundle of history and relics is a full quota of LED spots – without these it would be F rated or worse. We did find some old halogen spots in the loos, so we’ve replaced those.

Last but certainly not least, we’ve looked at the energy supply. We have only an electric connection, and we want to make sure that the energy we do have to use comes from as sustainable a source as possible. We’ve therefore swapped out the existing commercial contract for one with Good Energy.

Renewables make up around 24% of the UK average fuel mix – Good Energy are one of the new breed of 100% renewable suppliers and claim to be the only supplier in the UK that sources 100% of their electricity from certified renewables like solar, wind, hydroelectrc and biofuels.

We are ensuring that the electricity we use results in zero CO2 and no radioactive waste.

After a bit of negotiating, it’s very slightly more costly in kWh terms but surprisingly close to standard suppliers

Where am I going with this? I don’t know, but I hope it’s sparked a few thoughts. We’ll keep you posted on progress and let you know how the summer activities go!


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