Installing insulation and vapour barriers, particularly in existing buildings not originally designed for them, often leads people to ask whether the building will “sweat” as a result. It’s possible to understand the thought processes that might lead to that question, but is there any truth in the idea?
To put things in some context: the human body produces sweat to help regulate body temperature. The body gets hot, sweats, and the evaporation of that moisture off the skin introduces a cooling effect to help reduce the temperature.
It’s a common experience, especially for anyone who enjoys the great outdoors, to put on a plastic (or, more accurately, non-breathable) raincoat and find it becomes wet on the inside within minutes. The body sweats and the evaporated moisture condensates on the inside of the coat.
In building projects, when the specification calls for a vapour control layer – especially a plastic-based one like polythene – perhaps it is this ‘raincoat’ effect that people are thinking of and worrying about. That as the building is used, moisture will form on the vapour barrier.
Condensation isn’t sweat
Building occupants generate moisture through everyday activities: cooking, cleaning, washing, bathing, breathing and – yes – sweating. The moisture vapour is held in the air, but it’s not a result of helping to control the temperature of the building. It is entirely a by-product of people living and working in buildings.
As the temperature of air changes, the quantity of moisture vapour it’s able to hold also changes; the warmer the air the greater its capacity. When warm air comes into contact with cooler surfaces, it drops in temperature and can no longer hold the same quantity of moisture.
If it was already at or close to saturation point then the moisture it can no longer hold is deposited as condensation – such as on a cold beer glass in a warm pub or inside a cold raincoat worn by a warm person.
Cold surfaces in buildings
Anywhere that insulation is missing or badly installed and allows warm air to leak from a building is a potential cold spot – and a potential area for condensation to occur. Windows are also a prime candidate for condensation, since they typically have a worse thermal performance than the surrounding building fabric.
It’s right to be concerned about condensation, because it is unwanted in buildings. It creates a damp and unhealthy environment for a building’s occupants, and can lead to mould growth. If it occurs within the building structure, unseen, and is allowed to accumulate over time, it can also lead to structural failures – for example, if timber elements start to rot.
Buildings might not sweat, but controlling moisture is very much something to think about. It’s understandable that people get concerned about installing vapour barriers and airtight layers. Positioned correctly, however, they can be very effective and help protect the building fabric.
Next month we’ll look at how airtightness, insulation and ventilation work together in modern construction to minimise condensation risk.
Taking place so soon after COP-26, there was undoubtedly an air of interest and motivation to seriously work towards climate change targets. After spending the day at the London Build Sustainability Summit 2021 some pressing key themes came to light.
Net Zero Standard
Net zero was the big buzzword of the day as changing policy will affect both professional and personal lives. Making small changes in our personal lives is easily achieved. To achieve net-zero targets within the built environment is an undeniable challenge. However, by opting for more sustainable options, excellent progress can be made. It’s easier than you think and can be very cost effective.
Conscious choices to use less carbon intensive materials, incorporating sustainable and recycled materials where possible, optimising design to minimize waste and consumption and prioritizing the reuse of existing materials, go a long way.
A lot of perfectly good materials get recycled and downgraded through the process. Reused materials are more beneficial and should always be used over virgin materials. Urban mining provides plenty of perfectly good materials that can be reused or repurposed. Fabric first design where significant reductions in carbon emissions can be achieved is becoming more important in planning submissions.
The cost of emissions is another key component. At present, making sustainable choices often comes down to cost. However, there needs to be a mind shift towards considering the environmental costs or carbon cost of the development. This is not only linked to embodied and operational carbon, but also the impact on the UK environment such as increased flooding and the devastating effects of extreme weather conditions. Whilst this type of assessment called carbon offset is usually carried out through pre-planning reports and for major projects there is a fee to pay too, the results seem to only be taken at a minimum.
The collective voices on stage at this London Build 2021 Sustainability Summit echoed. We all need to reframe the narrative; sustainable choices are actually cost effective and reduce the carbon offset fee; short-term investment achieves long-term gain; meeting and exceeding planning requirements will take huge strides towards truly sustainable and net-zero buildings; building sustainably is the construction industry’s responsibility to help design a better future for our homes, local environments and the global climate.
We are in this together. The other buzzword of the day was collaboration. The built environment contributes around 40% of the UK’s total carbon footprint, a huge number and with that comes great responsibility. By collaborating better from the design stages through to practical completion an interdisciplinary approach can help in this drive for increased sustainability without compromising profitability.
Whole Life Carbon Roadmap
All of these points are outlined in greater detail in the UK Green Building Councils Net Zero Whole Life Carbon Roadmap for the Built Environment. We will be taking a closer look at all of this and takeways from COP26 in the new year but until then we wish you a very happy holiday season!
Designed by Freepik
For some, the shift away from offices and towards more time at home, spurred a romance for the garden. As of March 2021, Brits had spent £16bn on gardening over the past year.
The pandemic gave some the gift of time. Those who previously spent a long time commuting reclaimed hours of their day, 8-million were put on furlough and a further 800,000 lost their jobs. Many of us had more time on our hands than we knew what to do with.
Ordinarily, we were probably too busy to find time to garden, either at work or committed to busy social calendars. Our gardens can easily become untamed or neglected. Yet, with all this newfound time, it hardly comes as a surprise that Global Data found gardening listed as the second most popular activity in lockdown. Ahead of cooking, reading and exercising – only beaten by watching TV.
Suddenly being thrown into spending all of our time at home, we naturally tried to make this environment as nice as possible for ourselves. 15 million of us visited the RHS website in the first 100-days of lockdown, eager to learn more about gardening. A huge figure compared to a total 20 million in the entirety of 2019.
Demand grew so much, that seeds began selling out months before their seasons. Experienced gardeners no-doubt feeling frustrated by all us newbies finally discovering the therapeutic benefits of gardening.
Gardening as a Wellbeing Tool
Gardening can be a form of mindfulness, having to concentrate on the task in front of you forces you to be present and worries and fears have to take a backseat. There is also something very instinctive in spending time with plants in this way, feeling a connection to early human experiences as foragers and farmers. Connecting with nature in this way can help to soothe the mind and put things into perspective.
These benefits help to explain why so many of us, during such a high stress experience, sought to engage in gardening. In a survey by Forest Garden and Thrive, 43% of people agreed that “gardening helps my mental health”, while 36% agreed that “gardening keeps me fit and healthy”.
This awareness of health benefits is coming further into the mainstream, with more research in the area, alongside projects propping up that focus on helping people with mental health issues get into gardening. It is being recognised as something we should be promoting in a more widespread way, in the hope that wellbeing can be promoted in a healthy way that is also good for the environment and wildlife, if done in an organic chemical-free way.
In an ideal world, everyone would have access to a garden, but as discussed in our previous post – green space in the city is a privilege. Whilst it is spatially impossible for everyone to have a garden, there seem to be innovative solutions propping up to cater for urban living. For example, indoor hydroponic systems enable city-dwellers to engage in their own growing experience even if they don’t have access to an outdoor space.
Urban planning policy has begun to acknowledge this relationship and realise the importance of including greening in new developments. Updates to the New London Plan 2021 include the use of Urban Greening as a necessary requirement within sustainability statements for submission to planning. This inclusion in policy highlights the drive for biodiversity and ensures urban residents get to enjoy greener developments.
Whilst greener developments and growing indoors certainly have their benefits and enable more people to benefit from gardening in some form, there is undoubtedly a missing connection of being able to interact directly with the soil.
Community gardens and allotments can provide great alternatives to private gardens in urban settings, particularly for those living in under-funded or low-income areas. These spaces are extremely valuable in providing wellbeing benefits to residents, alongside acting as significant carbon stores to help us as the planet warms and cities become more difficult places to live.
Designed by Freepik
With claims of London being one of the ‘greenest’ cities, we can often be spoilt for choice over which park to visit. The city’s parks have undoubtedly seen an uptake in visitors over the past year, as we were desperate to get out of our homes, with few other places to go.
Daily walks and forcing yourself outdoors became crucial parts of our days. One of the small things we could do to help our physical and mental health, during what felt like world chaos.
A New Introduction
I’m new to the team at EAL Consult and a recent graduate in urban sustainability. Having been a student and new graduate throughout the pandemic, I simply didn’t have the budget to rent somewhere with a garden (even properties with balconies are charged at a premium).
When I moved in before the pandemic, my housemates and I barely gave it a second thought. We were saving money by not having a balcony and we’re never really at home anyway, right?
Cue the pandemic and suddenly I found myself living alone, in a flat with no outside space. I was in the middle of completing my thesis, during what was a globally overwhelming time and the only thing keeping me sane was my daily walks around the local park. The park itself was nothing special, but I had never really appreciated how important it is to have access to the outdoors, to not be trapped within 4 walls.
And I’m sure this was the case for a lot of people, particularly in a cities like London where so many of us live in rented apartments. Parks became our little escapes.
Outside Space and Wellbeing
No doubt we can all agree on how important it is to spend time outdoors, even medical professionals have begun engaging with ‘green social prescribing’ due to its noticeable health benefits.
But what about those who were suddenly told they shouldn’t leave the house? Those who were shielding whilst living in a flat with no outdoors. The concept of public space becomes seemingly irrelevant if you are someone with a compromised immune system who shouldn’t be around other people.
For some, you might only have to walk through your living room to reach some green space and for those lucky enough to have gardens, this may have become a little safe haven, free from the threat of the virus ‘outside’.
Yet, for a significant amount of Londoners, public space is all there is. Green space in the city is a privilege.
I wonder if now we have this renewed love for parks and going for walks no matter the weather, if the way we perceive public and private green space will shift.
Understandably, space in urban areas is a scarce resource and it’s unrealistic to think every urban resident can have a garden. But perhaps rather than seeing ‘outdoor space’ as empty land waiting to be developed, we can acknowledge how important these spaces are in creating well-functioning, happy cities.
I think ‘urban greening’ can often be seen as a tick box exercise; must include X amount of green space or, maybe if we made that garden a bit smaller we could make Y building bigger. If we place so much emphasis on outside being good for you, why do we continue to develop and build in ways that provide no outside space for residents?
The shift we have experienced from COVID-19 will have a long-lasting effect on how we live and where we spend our time, with increasingly blurred lines between living and working spaces, alongside a stronger focus on health and wellbeing.
I hope that we can move forwards in our design and developments, to think about the wellbeing of these residents. We are living in an unpredictable world where climate change is causing extreme weather and increased likelihood of pandemics. I hope that those of us in positions to shape the physical realm, can prioritise wellbeing and outside space. So we can at least be confident that, if history repeats itself, urban environments can support their residents through turbulence.
Designed by Freepik
When lockdown was announced everybody around us was making arrangements to work remotely. As a building sustainability consultancy, we practice what we preach. EAL Consult offices have always been located at home in order to minimise our carbon footprint. We were relieved that adapting would not be difficult for us.
Consultants were duly dispatched back home with their equipment and remote login details so that their screens could be monitored, beady eyed, by yours truly, from a safe distance, as they work. After the first couple of weeks of one, two, skip a few, watch an ep and check emails at 4.30pm, this has been working very well. A slacker will slack wherever they are and great co-workers deliver on time from any location.
Personally, I was confident that adapting to the evolving situation and shielding, for me, would be relatively pain free. Nine weeks later, having moved office from inside to the garden table outside for the sake of my sanity, I’m sitting in the sunshine, birds tweeting in the trees, washing hanging on the line and I am reflecting on the burgeoning relationship between building performance and environmental behaviour in the current climate and beyond. How co-existing with a deadly disease will be affecting the big picture of workforce building sustainability. There are the two aspects, the construction point of view and the wellness of its occupants or should I say employees, because how many of said occupants will actually be going back to the workplace at all, opting to work from home with their employer’s blessing!
I say blessing because social distancing rules will automatically mean that many workplaces will not have the capacity to accommodate the same levels of pre-Covid-19 staff. Another consideration for the C-suite and business owners is the cost saving and beneficial choices that coping with Covid-19 has inadvertently presented. Where employees have earned their trust by demonstrating that tasks really can be completed just as well at home as in the office, there is the opportunity to think about downsizing office space – releasing the shackles of punishing rates and rents.
Employers and employees who find that going to a place of work does not sit well with their lifestyle, health, childcare situation or family commitments, are also facing a myriad of benefits if presented with the prospect of working from home – saving on expensive travel costs and exhausting journeys. Thus, expanding precious time for family, friends, cooking and leisure. Imagine leaving the breakfast table at 8.55am, arriving at your desk by 9am, cafeteria choices from your fridge that you have time to stock at coffee break and lunchtime. Day ends at 5pm, “home” by 5.05pm with the best part of seven hours of downtime before getting a proper night’s sleep of a good seven to eight hours. There’s stress free time to go to the gym, do homework and activities with kids, spend quality time with partner and friends, go food shopping, get to the GP…the list is endless.
So, what will happen to the buildings? Office blocks can be converted into becoming long needed residential units embracing a carbon life cycle approach. Many homes can be adapted or extended to accommodate internal work spaces or home offices. Architects are already reporting that outdoor spaces are becoming a popular platform for garden offices. Adapting an existing building during an upgrade or refurbishment presents some very interesting new options. Similarly, new build or change of use schemes may see unit sizes increasing or quantities reducing to allow for work space.
The upside to all this the resulting uplift in asking price or faster sales for a development promoting sustainable living with health and wellbeing at the fore. Those with money to spend on new homes and they are out there, are increasingly aware of wellness and will be attracted to a property reflecting and enabling a new and better lifestyle of sustainable living.
Planning opportunities are opening up for developers like never before with councils under pressure to deliver planning permission wherever possible to keep up with demand, Corona or no Corona.
Designing sustainability into any project has never been more relevant and exciting. The industry is getting used to Council requirements for energy assessments and sustainability statements as part and parcel of obtaining planning permission for projects of all shapes and sizes depending on location.
Building Regulations Part L, for the conservation of fuel and power, scrutinises the insulation, heating, renewable technology and glazing for new dwellings and buildings, including change of use where new addresses are created (e.g. pub to eight flats) and extensions with more than 25% glazing.
Apart from the ever-tightening circles of compliance with the new London Plan 2020 on the horizon, now more than ever is the time to consider the health of a building, its surroundings and the safeguarding of the people in it. The World Organisation for Safety and Health in Indoor Environment has created the WOSHIE certificate of Building Protection Against the Spread of Virus.
Launched last week and already with four projects underway including a university building and a town hall this is currently being spearheaded in Spain and Europe by Dr Rafael Diez a leading LEED AP and WELL AP. His industrial engineering company, Vega Ingenieria, regularly working with large buildings. Together with his team, he has devised inventive and cost effective solutions to adapting buildings for their clients. This has transferred to the WOSHIE certification that they deliver complete with a to-do list and costings, delivering the safest working practices in this virus-era.
The new London Plan 2020 emphasises biodiversity, air quality, carbon offset, carbon life cycle, and embodied carbon forcing architects and developers to consider replacing gas or electric boilers with air boilers (air source heat pumps) to reduce carbon emissions, buying locally sourced materials that can be reused or recycled at the end of the building’s life and incorporating plants and flowers in the landscape to help with the bee crisis, to name but a few…
The sea change that Covid-19 has brought upon us is affecting us all in some way or another and even when it is all over, please god, a new way of life can be embraced.