“Over the long term, fabric first is the most economical approach to sustainable building”. At first sight, this is a non-controversial statement but look a little closer and some interesting issues appear. Here, Lu Rahman, Editor of the leading “green” publications, Energy & Environment Management, offers her interpretation of this statement.
Without doubt, a fabric first approach should be applauded and supported where appropriate. A well-designed home, that uses the latest technologies to insulate and retain energy, and therefore perform to optimum level energy efficiency standards, is of course ideal.
However, there is a case that we need to look at more than just fabric first and consider other options especially where cost plays a part. The UK is made up of a large amount of energy inefficient housing. Householders face rising energy costs and one way of countering this is through the installation of both energy efficient systems and renewable / microgeneration technology, which has proved attractive due to financial incentives and solid returns on investment (ROI). Faced with the option of the disruption of replacing doors and windows and having insulation fitted, rightly or wrongly, a person of retirement age, for example, may well choose to have solar PV installed instead.
The perfect home is of course one that combines a fabric first approach and renewable technologies. Of course, many homes still rely upon fossil fuels and where those householders aren’t tempted by renewables, we should ensure boilers etc. are as energy efficient as possible.
In an ideal world, fabric first would be a given. However, the cost involved at taking this approach should be recognised. As home-builders face legislation to makes houses increasingly sustainable, this of course brings with it added costs which are then passed on to the buyer. Renewable technology does of course offer a great ROI and if it means homeowners experience lower energy bills, then surely this is also a good approach?
Whilst fabric first is to be recommended, we also need to consider the sustainability issues pre-fabric first. Not only are there the cost implications of using sustainable materials in a new-build property but how are we actually classing sustainability?
As an energy editor, I support the ethos behind a fabric first approach. We need to consider other factors however and find solutions to overcome them. How do we convince the homeowner that fabric first investment is better than the savings to be had from simply switching energy supplier (and having no idea where that energy comes from).
We also have the arguments to overcome such as the gas suppliers who will say that an energy efficient boiler will offer advantages that cannot be overlooked and there is also the fossil fuel-based generator that puts forward the point that once the technology is readily available to capture and store CO2, we have another angle on the argument for sustainability.
As an advocate of both fabric first as well renewable technology, it is clear that there are some obstacles to overcome before we can convince the majority of the population that there are solid reasons to take fabric first seriously. There can be little doubt that there are benefits to a fabric first ethos in a new-build design, but how do we overcome cost issues and convince the householder to invest in this important approach?