By Paul Simpson, Commercial Director at Recticel Insulation
Whilst commending Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s commitment to making good his pledge for the UK to achieve carbon neutral status by 2050, is a focus on the wider roll-out of emission-mitigating renewables such as air source heat pumps and PV panels overlooking a solution that is already proven to improve the sustainable performance of the UK’s housing stock?
Recent months have seen leaders of the Western World move the climate emergency to the top of their agenda. Not before time, some might say. However, it is unclear whether the benefits of taking a fabric-first approach to building design loomed large during discussions at the recent COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. This is despite a demonstration home being specially-built for the event in order to showcase fabric-first, low carbon construction methods.
As household energy usage accounts for 40% of the UK’s CO2 emissions1, the importance of addressing this significant statistic should not be underplayed. Taking a fabric-first approach to the design of walls, floors and roofs is a bedrock to a property achieving current energy standards, which in-turn is vital to reducing fuel consumption. A well-insulated home can futureproof a building against a further tightening of energy standards, as well as contribute to supressing fuel bills for millions of households.
Improving living standards for the health and wellbeing of residents in poorer UK communities is an issue Recticel is seeking to address through its membership of the National Home Improvement Council (NHIC). The non-profit organisation was set up nearly 50 years ago to promote the benefits of safe and sustainable homes as a means of creating comfortable, affordable interiors. This is particularly aimed at occupants facing fuel poverty, a threat that’s been exacerbated for many households nationwide due to the current worldwide rise in energy prices.
The NHIC endorses taking a fabric-first approach to improving a property’s thermal performance, as does another high-profile industry body which counts Recticel as a member: the Sustainable Energy Association (SEA). With a membership comprising retailers, manufacturers, regulators and housing providers, all of which are committed to energy-saving measures, the SEA aims to combine building-level technologies and the wider energy system to achieve a secure, low-carbon future for the UK.
Design to exceed energy standards
To futureproof properties, however, we must look to exceed, rather than meet required levels of thermal performance. This will also offset an industry issue that is very current and involves new houses being built to old energy standards, an outcome that could thwart the government’s ambition to reduce carbon emissions in new homes by 31% – in comparison with current standards – as outlined in its Future Homes Standard proposal.
Going above and beyond in terms of insulating our homes through a fabric-first approach has physical and fiscal benefits for the property owner. It helps to create healthy, comfortable interiors by eliminating issues such as thermal bridging, which can lead to damp and mould formation. In time, as people become more aware of the cost and comfort benefits of owning a property which has been provided with an efficient thermal seal, including correctly-specified, high-performance insulation as part of a building’s fabric could add to its value. Indeed, as consensus amongst the populace grows for a need for more personal vigilance in reducing emissions to tackle climate change, an energy-efficient home is likely to appear more desirable to buyers wary of embarking on a costly retrofit to improve its thermal performance.
Recticel high-performance PIR solutions
Recticel has a range of full and partial-fill PIR solutions to suit a variety of cavity wall applications as part of a fabric-first design. Eurowall+, for example, is a rigid full-fill insulation board and the first of its kind to feature a tongue-and-groove joint on all four edges. This innovative detail makes it capable of achieving a U-value of 0.18 W/m2K in a traditional 100mm masonry cavity wall. Its beneficial size, coupled with its improved airtightness from the tongue and groove joint, means Eurowall+ extracts more performance compared to typical partial-fill solutions, without widening the footprint of the external wall.
Also within the range is Eurowall® Cavity, a high-performance board designed for partial-fill masonry cavity wall applications. With precision-cut straight edges to ensure gaps between boards are kept to a minimum, Eurowall® Cavity has a low-emissivity facing. This innovative characteristic delivers improved thermal resistance within the clear cavity.
With modern building, airtightness and addressing the thermal envelope should go hand-in-hand. Renewables ought to be viewed as an accompaniment, not a magic bullet, to the creation of low carbon homes. There are also financial considerations. As has been widely reported, items such as air source pumps do not come cheap and whilst there is no doubt they are an emission-friendly alternative to gas boilers and mechanical heating systems, debate currently ensues about the viability of their use nationwide due to their size and cost.
Correctly-specified, high-performance insulation, when used as part of a fabric-first design, is proven to assist in the construction of comfortable homes which can reduce the impact on the environment. It is the sustainable building block upon which well-placed renewables can be used to boost a property’s energy efficiency. It’s a team effort that will be key to fulfilling the UK’s well-documented net-zero ambition.
1 Figures provided by Committee on Climate Change report.