Energy saving and sustainable design

Shape Architecture brings to all its projects over 26 years of experience in low energy and sustainable design. This is ever more important given the energy crisis.

Following ten years as an Associate Director at a leading sustainable practice our Director, Jason Wren established Shape Architecture in 2006 to explore energy efficient sustainable design in the residential and community sectors.

From the addition of thermal lining to existing solid walls to the use of heat pumps and incorporation of green roofs, we are experienced in all energy saving sustainable measures.

All of our projects no matter what size or type benefit from this wealth of experience. Small actions can make a big difference.

Energy saving measures: A Fabric First Approach

Since its creation Shape Architecture’s approach to energy saving and sustainable design has been to do the simple thing first and then consider further energy generating measures. This is now more commonly called a ‘Fabric First Approach’.

Such an approach sees the upgrade of walls and windows and other components that make up the building fabric before the use of systems such as heat pumps, Solar PV panels or Solar Thermal.

A Fabric First approach will reduce heat loss through the enclosing walls, roof, floors and windows and so reduce the amount of energy required. It will lower bills.

Measures will include maximising air tightness, increasing levels of insulation and optimising natural ventilation and daylight.

Heat pumps

Heat Pumps are gaining in popularity in the UK and many companies are now producing them. At Shape Architecture we have been using heat pumps for many years in both residential and community sector settings. We use both air source and ground source heat pumps and always have a project on the drawing board utilizing heat pump technology.

A heat pump takes energy from outside and transfers it into heat to be circulated around a heating and hot water system. A heat pump uses electricity to run the components of a heat pump, principally a fan, compressor and circulating pumps to transfer the energy from the heat source into the heat sink or heating system.

Green sedum roofs

Shape Architecture’s work is often characterised by its use of green roofs.  These are typically sedum roofs. We have also used rubble roofs on projects such as our community project in Hammersmith. We use green roofs on private residential projects of all types and scale and community projects too. The advantages of a green sedum roof are many.

  1. The sedum roof will absorb up to 70% of rainfall that falls upon it and this serves to counter risks of flooding – ever more a concern
  2. The lifespan of the roof covering is increased as the sedum blanket offers it protection
  3. Thermal performance of the roof is improved
  4. A wildlife habitat is created
  5. Air quality is improved

There is also considerable benefit in the appearance of a green roof over other roof coverings. It serves to make people consider the opportunities to integrate of such sustainable measures. Upkeep is simple being one or two times a year to remove any weeds.

Upcycle and recycle

The benefits of the re-use of materials and products is clear. From our Eco sheds in London to our House in Hastings, we have been upcycling and recycling in our building projects for over 15 years.

Often quoted is the approach of ‘re-use, reduce and recycle’. People talk of mining the ‘anthropocene layer’ – the human geological layer surrounding the planet. Small actions can make a big difference.

The advantages of a re-use, reduce and recycle approach are as follows:

Reduce Carbon Emissions. Conserves Natural Resources. Saves Energy.

Re-use and recycle in a residential project

In Hastings the extension and refurbishment of a house in the old town revolved around the upcycling of materials and products. Here we worked with the salvage company Retrouvius. Recycled marble was used in bathrooms. Old school chemistry benches formed the basis for tables such as a large dining table. Other smaller items of furniture were adapted and painted. This sustainable approach also saw extensive use of sedum roofs within which light shafts were located to bring natural light and ventilation down into the basement.

Re-use and recycle in a community project

At our community project in Hammersmith for the Hammersmith Community Garden Association the re-use of materials was central to the brief and varied. For example, we bought a series of second-hand hardwood doors and these became external balustrading and internal seats. Working with our Contractor and the reclamation yard we were able to procure further second-hand items such as sinks and floor vinyl. This sustainable approach also saw the use of green roofs, water harvesting, and large amounts of natural light accompanied with limited foundations, as the building touched the ground lightly and the cladding of the walls in timber.

Re-use materials: insulation

There are many ‘natural’ insulation products that we have used that re-use materials such as from recycled newsprint. Sheep’s wool insulation such as ‘Thermafleece’ or plant fibre insulation are all excellent natural insulators and a key part of any building project.

Energy efficient windows and doors

Installing energy efficient windows and doors will help save energy and reduce your carbon footprint. These are either double or triple glazing in a sealed unit.

Other benefits include reduction in draughts, less noise, reduction in condensation.

Draught free homes are more comfortable at lower temperatures than draughty homes.

4 energy saving tips for your home

Below are some tips to save energy in your home. They will make a difference and are easy to achieve, some being more akin to simple DIY or changes in behaviour.

Draught proof gaps. This is around doors in particular and also around windows and at open chimneys. There are a wide range of insulated overs to apply to letter boxes. To a draughty door fit a draught excluder to the gaps at the underside of the door. Add draught strips around the edges of the door with self-adhesive edging strips. Cover the keyhole. Add a traditional soft draught excluder to the bottom of the door. Chimney ‘balloons’ or ‘pillows’ are widely available. An old pillow wrapped in a bin bag should also help. To draughty windows consider thick curtains with a liner as a simple measure. Sealing tape fixed to the window frame junctions will address heat loss around the perimeter of the window.

Insulate your loft and walls.  Approximately a third of heat is lost through the walls in an uninsulated home and a quarter of heat goes through the roof. To insulate your loft use rolls of mineral wool insulation tightly fitted between the loft joists. This is relatively easy to do with a significant payback. A more efficient approach is once the depth of joists is filled with insulation then a further layer at right angles over the joists is installed. Ensure insulation is tightly fitted at the low-level eaves junction. Do not squash the insulation. The Energy Savings Trust note that if your home was built before the 1920s it is likely to have solid brick external walls. It has no cavity and so no cavity wall insulation. An insulation upgrade to existing solid brick wall can either be applied to the outside or inside of the wall. Applied to the outside would see external insulation boards fixed to the wall and then rendered. This may raise issues in its integration with existing pipework, projecting window cills etc. and may require planning permission.  Alternatively, plasterboard panels with insulation bonded to them can be fixed to the inner face on plaster dabs or a some form of liner frame. This will require skirting and services such as power points to be re-set.

Turn off lights and fit LED bulbs. Turning off lights in rooms on leaving makes sense. The Energy Savings Trust note that for every traditional halogen bulb you switch to a similarly bright LED bulb you save around 5kg of CO2 emissions.

Buy energy efficient appliances. An energy efficient appliance such as a fridge or freezer should be the right size for your requirements in the first instance. Washing machines should have ‘load detection’ determining how big or wet a load is so no unnecessary water or energy is used.

How do energy labels work?
Appliances are tested for how much energy they use during typical use. This gives them a rating on a scale of A to G, with A being the most efficient product of its class, and G being the least efficient. Some appliances use an older scale, from A+++ to G, with A+++ being the most efficient.