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Designing homes to handle the extreme temperatures of climate change

Rich Hyams, director at astudio

The last few years have been a time of palpable change for sustainability. The way we view and behave towards our planet has started to change dramatically, with the public more supportive to the cause. Businesses too are recognising the need for urgency, however some industries have much more to do to reduce their impact on our environment.

The construction sector, in particular, remains one of the worst culprits for CO2 emissions, however it is also becoming increasingly apparent that the homes we are building are not designed for the extreme weather climate change as a consequence.

If the industry is to ‘go green’, it must adapt the homes we build to the changing demands of our environment as well as mitigating harm. Reported complaints of overheating associated with new homes has put the quality of homes high on the political agenda. Just meeting sustainability regulations is not enough.

The industry must also consider the importance of building homes which are both well-insulated and breathable in the face of changing temperatures. With 982 pensioner deaths in 2019 attributed to heatwaves, risks associated with extreme temperatures continues to be deadly for the vulnerable.

So what does a properly insulated and breathable home look like? The term ‘Build Tight, Ventilate Right’ has been a saying within architectural design for years. This refers to energy efficiency as well as controlled, consistent and effective ventilation to reduce condensation, manage indoor air contaminants and act as a barrier to outdoor pollutants.

Importantly, as the government rollout of affordable homes continues, we need to see a standardised practice, which prioritises high ventilation standards. Addressing the need to provide sustainable homes at scale means striking the right balance between materials and method.

High thermal mass materials, such as concrete or brick, are able to regulate temperature effectively by averaging out day to night extremes. However, these materials are not considered sustainable, as they have high embodied energies and CO2.

With the government rollout of affordable homes, the industry has been under pressure to deliver much needed quality homes efficiently. Modular and other modern methods of construction have emerged as suitable solutions to this. These methods typically use light weight materials low in thermal mass, where temperature regulation is much harder to achieve.

However, it is still possible to achieve the ventilation standards required using MMC methods. It would be an error to disregard the importance of these methods of construction in delivering affordable homes quickly, particularly as the UK’s 320,000 homeless are amongst the most vulnerable to the effects of extreme temperatures.

An important advantage of modular design and construction is its ability to marriage technology with innovation. Using innovative software, architects can visualise and predict how the sun, materials and heating elements will interact – importantly allowing architects to plan for extreme weather and predict a building’s energy use.

The team at astudio has always put sustainability and the long-term preparedness of our buildings as a top priority. With the help of our research and design team, we are pioneering ways of utilising emerging technology such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to better anticipate how extreme temperature and weather changes will affect our structures, while making design suggestions on how to better shape them for optimum thermodynamics and ventilation control. Additionally, astudio employs a dedicated sustainability in-house engineer, who consults with us from the earliest design stages.

LETI (London Energy Transformation Initiative) are lobbying for enhanced sustainable targets set by the government through the building regulations. Astudio are in support of this in the belief that the enhancements are required to meet future zero carbon targets and industry green goals.

Currently government are aiming to reach targets by 2050 where as LETI/RIBA have greater ambitions to address zero carbon target by 2030. The team at astudio firmly believe that it is our responsibility to resolve these challenges.