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Sunday, 11 November 2012

Buildings and Carbon Emissions

Comments on the brief post I did on Willesden Green Library Centre argue that retrofitting an old building must be more carbon efficient than building a new one.  I have never seen any evidence for that assertion.

Given the sheer number of older buildings in the UK, effective retrofitting is clearly going to be an important set of techniques to develop.  However, raising an old building to the kind of performance one sees in a completely new one may well be impossible.  If we look at the refurbishment of Kilburn Library as an example, we find inherent obstacles.  Kilburn Library is a Victorian building and the Victorians did not build walls with cavity insulation.  The revitalised building now has more efficient lighting and heating, which both can be put in an old shell, but I find it harder to imagine how one could use some modern techniques, such as an extensive system of grey water harvesting for instance.  With a new building, the entire edifice can be designed to minimise the use of mechanical heating and ventilation.  There is also the question of expense, which in the case of Kilburn Library made installing double glazing prohibitive.  Finally, an old building in a conservation area, such as the Kilburn Library, is subject to various planning restrictions which can inhibit certain techniques.  I remember back in 2010, there were a number of issues with the use of passivhaus techniques in a property in Mapesbury.

The "you can't have new buildings" argument is one most associated with Brent Green Party in their struggle to denigrate Brent's new civic centre.  To me, it seems that the Brent Greens are taking an ultra conservative approach, and that they don't seem to care about the carbon emissions performance at all.

1 comment:

Domestic & General Insulation Ltd said...

It would be great for retrofits to bring older buildings up to the same standards as modern ones, however the simple fact of the matter is that older construction techniques often prevent this. You mentioned Victorian build techniques and it is the perfect example. It is only fairly recently that technology has been widespread that can allow such buildings to hit a good standard.

Of course, this means that suppliers of insulation materials need to continue to work to improve. Even if retrofit isn't as good as modern now, doesn't mean we should not work towards making it as good!

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