Eradicating Fuel Poverty through Retrofits

Construction, Design, Sustainability

The definition of Fuel Poverty…In the UK, a household is considered to be in fuel poverty if its energy bills are disproportionately high when compared to its residual income (Low Income High Costs Indicator). Closely related to this is the sometimes poor standard of housing accommodation which causes residents to consume large amounts of energy to heat their homes.

The scale of the problem…Nationally, out of approx. 27.2million UK households, it is estimated that 4 million households are living ‘Fuel poor’. That’s a staggering 15% of our existing stock and there are suggestions from industry experts that the current figure could be even higher.

Whilst I’ve personally not had the unfortunate situation of being directly impacted by this, I have experienced living in poor quality (energy efficiency) rented housing during my student days. The experience stuck with me, and as an architect-developer I’m keen to use my skills to find creative solutions to address this problem.

Some of the causes…

  • Poorly designed, constructed and insulated existing stock of housing built 25+ years ago still in use and not refurbished to high standards.
  • Rising Fuel costs, housing cost increases (be it rent or purchase price), alongside wage increases below inflation leaves increasingly more households susceptible to fuel poverty vulnerability.
  • Sub-standard private rental properties neglected by Landlords.

To stay healthy in body, mind and spirit we need to stay warm and comfortable. Living cold homes can make vulnerable people ill and existing illnesses worse. This then places extra strain on the nation’s overstretched health and social care services. In the winter of 2016/2017 an estimated 34,300 deaths were recorded in England & Wales(*). Historic research has suggested that up to 30% of these can be attributed to people occupying cold homes. Something has to change.

A solution and its benefits…Good architectural design and construction can play a big part in alleviating fuel poverty.Retrofitting our existing stock of housing is one key ways to bring these 4million homes out of fuel poverty. To retrofit a home essentially means making the home more energy efficient and healthier by adding to or upgrading its existing features/components to a higher energy performance standard that also reduces energy running costs.

I see retrofits as the only viable way for homeowners/households to gain control and shelter their energy bills against significant future prices rises. Measures such as loft, floor and wall insulation, energy efficient heating, water, radiator systems and double/triple glazing are all simple ways to improving the energy performance of existing homes. Take a look at EnerPHit for more insight on this and get in touch if you’d like to share more thoughts on this.


MMC and Off-Site Construction

Construction, Design, Sustainability

Modern Methods of Construction is an evolving process in the delivery of buildings, through efficiency gains in time, materials and cost. There are also significant gains to made in Health & Safety and quality of finished elements.

A key point to note about MMC is that the various methods employed will generally all encompass an element of off-site manufacturing; that is construction activities of buildings being assembled under cover, finished and tested prior to being installed on site.

Advantages and points to note on MMC:

1. On-site building erection times are generally quicker, along with a watertight enclosure achieved
2. With the construction and assembly of components in a factory, a superior finish can be achieved through quality control measures not subject to the challenges of the weather. This is still dependent on the quality of machinery and/or the trained contractors operating them.
3. From a sustainability and social perspective, MMC brings many benefits including reduced wastage of materials through precision quantity measurements, reduced delivery movements and energy used on site. For the labour force there is a significant benefit of improved working environments under cover, with closer quality control measures, especially in climates similar to the UK’s or colder. All weather working can have the impact of improving health & safety records in the construction workplace, as RIDDOR incidents can be significantly reduced. The process of inspecting and snagging defects is also made more consistent under cover.
4. On site, successful MMC delivery requires accurately managed & setting out of foundations and structural members to accommodate the precision engineered elements that will be situated on them and have probably already been manufactured before the concrete has set!
5. MMC will typically require an advanced level of design detail and construction logistics planning prior to a start-on-site. Space requirements need to be considered access for large pre-fabricated or modular elements, as well their potential storage. With regards to design, there’s little room for on-site design changes as is very common with traditional construction methods.
6. Use of BIM technology is synonymous with MMC, as all the components needed to construction building elements can be precision modelled and tested in 3D, scheduled, costed and interrogated endlessly prior to commuting to design freeze and manufacture.

A future blog will delve into the various types of MMC. Watch this blogspace for more info….

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BIM for Clients: part 1…

Construction, Design, Uncategorized

As those of you with a keen eye on industry movements will have seen, BIM has come to the fore of the industry over the last 5 years since the Government’s mandate to deliver all centrally procured construction projects to BIM Level 2 from 1st April 2016.

Well that date has come and gone, and with the recent transition into 2017, the general consensus from media forums and personal participation in industry events indicates a better appreciation of the benefits of BIM from the construction industry as a whole since the government drive towards BIM was announced. However there still seems to be some uncertainty and a lack of interest from residential client developers to capture the significant benefits that BIM adoption has to offer their businesses. This blogpost is part 1 of 2 which focuses on some of the barriers to Client-side BIM adoption.

Having worked in both architectural practices and for one of the South East’s leading residential developers since the turn of the decade, I’ve been able to witness the growth in awareness of BIM utilisation on the consultant side and draw attention to the need for its adoption within the client design management team processes.

My personal experiences seem to suggest a number of key barriers to BIM adoption exist within residential developer organisations:

1 – The perceived enormous costs & time associated with implementation. Like any investment, you need to put something in to get something out, but this need not be an expensive process. The upfront capital investment required to implement procedures and processes, as well as the acquisition of soft&hardware can be challenging for SMEs especially. However, what needs to be demonstrated to SMEs more succinctly is the value added, and return on investment through BIM adoption, to make the case for it unquestionable.

2 – The belief that ”we’ve been designing & constructing buildings for many years without BIM, so why change now”. Yes, believe it or not, this is the view held by some industry representatives. These protagonists view BIM as a problem, as disruptive and in some cases a barrier to ‘just getting the work done’. Well personally, I couldn’t agree less. The BIM process is designed to be collaborative, deliver efficiencies, truly coordinated buildings / spaces and coordinated asset management information.

3 – A perception that BIM is a modelling tool only for consultants and contractors. This perception probably comes from a misunderstanding generally within the industry that BIM is primarily useful for visualisation purposes, rather than appreciating what it really is; a process of collaborative project information management. Clients actually have a very important part to play in the uptake of BIM across the industry, as they almost always have the authority to set the project brief with BIM at its core, and are ultimately the ones paying for the service delivered by the process of project information management. Would it be fair to say that the more clients are willing to invest (not merely financially) in BIM, the more motivation their supply chain will have in delivering it? In some ways, yes, but equally can the supply chain play its part by looking inward and seeing what it can do to deliver more internal business efficiencies, coordinated design and construction services to the client through BIM adoption? It’d be good to have your thoughts…

4 – A lack of certainty from all participants to the process of BIM regarding their role in the process. To a degree this is still understandable, as the industry continues to acquire knowledge and insight from each project delivered through BIM.

BIM for Clients: Part 2 looks at the ingredients needed for client-side BIM uptake. Watch this space for it…

So what (really) is BIM?


There are many definitions and interpretations of what BIM is (and isn’t) out there in the digisphere. A widely referenced definition, in the UK, comes from the CPIC which defines it as ‘a digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility. A Building Information Model is a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility forming a reliable basis for decisions during its life-cycle; defined as existing from earliest conception to demolition’.

The problem with this definition is that it focuses very much on the digital model representation of a facility. Consequently I find that many people who are model creaters in their line of work often find it difficult to move past the idea of BIM just being for designers. Nothing could be further from the truth.

For me, I see Building Information Modelling as being is all about process. In its simplest sense it is a process of digital information management to assist businesses make informed decisions through every stage of asset development to management and eventual disposal. You could argue that BIM really should be PIM – Project Information Management, as it really centers on the production, coordination and management of project information that is comes out of the collaborative building information model process.

Every member or stakeholder involved in the process of development of a physical asset can contribute to BIM, right from land surveyors to facility managers and everyone in between.