The Importance of Building Envelopes to Energy Efficiency and Combatting CO2 Emissions

Simon Wild, European Category Marketing Manager at Formica Group, looks at building envelopes, their importance in combatting CO2 emissions and the role they play in energy efficiency

On a global scale residential and commercial buildings are estimated to contribute approximately 31.5% of CO2 emissions each year. When we focus on the UK, buildings account for approximately 37% of carbon emissions. To address this issue, the UK has pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 80% come 2050.

To meet the objective, it is essential that during the development phase of new builds, consideration is given to the energy efficiency and performance of a building. Since the Carbon Trust estimates 60% of the buildings in existence today will still be in use in 2050, it is also important that existing buildings are refurbished to be brought in line with UK carbon emissions goals.

Beyond the Green Deal and refurbishment

Of the UK buildings that require retrofitting to meet the carbon emissions reduction, figures suggest there is a 60/40 split between residential and commercial respectively.

Committed to refurbishing social housing by helping home owners, tenants and landlords with the cost of improvements, the government’s Green Deal presented the UK with a huge potential market in the refurbishment of existing buildings. Examples of the improvements covered by the scheme included exterior envelopes, boiler upgrades and double glazing. Poor insulation is a contributing factor to a building’s heat loss in winter and heat gain in summer. Therefore, to ensure the right building envelope is specified to influence thermal performance and reduce running costs, a “fabric first” approach is required.

Furthermore, exterior cladding solutions that use external insulation minimise internal building disruption for occupants during refurbishment, are quick to install and reduce loss of internal floor space. Cladding that is well engineered requires little maintenance, will provide consistent performance for years to come and will keep its appearance.

The adoption of such measures facilitates considerable cost savings since buildings which previously had a zero energy star rating can qualify for a rating as high as 8 stars. In the wake of the Green Deal being scrapped, the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards and ‘Decent Homes’ Programme help in filling the void but there still remains a demand for an initiative embedded in legislation to replace the scheme.

Stricter Requirements for New Builds

To address carbon emission issues and energy efficiency, the government has introduced a number of policies encouraging the adoption of low carbon technology in buildings. The government has also placed stricter requirements for commercial buildings and new homes constructed after April 2014.

Other government measures include the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme which implements the EU Energy Efficiency Directive; a set of binding measures established to assist the EU in reaching its building energy performance targets by 2020. For residential buildings that require renovation in order to comply with the directive, factors such as building envelope specification, draught proofing and double glazing are steps worth considering.

Advancements in Building Envelopes

From traditional materials such as stone and timber, to modern composites like high pressure laminate and fibre cement; technological advancements mean there is a wider choice of cladding materials, colours and finishes than ever before. Cladding systems that permit the combination of materials are ideal for accentuating architectural design. The availability of a variety of fixing methods, both visible and concealed, can also complement the overall building look.

Recent developments include the possibility to create digital replication of images into cladding panels as well as custom colour matches. For residential buildings under renovation this presents further design possibilities to create an aesthetically impressive building.

A cost effective alternative to demolition and rebuilding, building envelopes offer the potential to increase a building’s value, extend its useful life and convert an outdated building into an architectural jewel.