Sustainable Buildings and the Future of Construction

20 August 2018 Kingspan Group
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If the ongoing global construction boom is to avoid catastrophic environmental impacts then building professionals will need to work harder to embed sustainable thinking into design and delivery.
 
By 2050, the floor area in buildings worldwide is expected to double to over 415 billion square metres, and with it associated energy demand may increase by as much as 50% (figures from World Green Building Council).
 
Given that the useful lifespan of most properties ranges from 50 to 100 years, the design and specification decisions made today have the potential to either lock in inefficiency or raise standards for thermal performance and energy use.
 
The next era of energy efficient buildings is likely to incorporate a range of cutting edge features, such as energy-efficient lighting, high performance building materials, and flexible layouts and structures that can be easily adapted to different uses over time.

Energy Positive

As pressure on natural resources grows, technology is likely to transform buildings of the future into collectors and storers of energy. Traditional solar panels and solar thermal systems will become integrated into the building fabric, building on current innovations such as thin film solar cells made by depositing layers of photovoltaic material onto a substrate, such as glass, plastic or metal. 
 
According to the recent NHBC Foundation Futurology report, by 2050 many homes will function as mini renewable power plants, able to collect energy from solar and wind and store it in a home battery, used to create electricity, heat and charge electric cars.
 
The report predicts that controls used to manage systems in homes will become more sophisticated at managing energy usage, calling on different sources such as photovoltaics, batteries, national grid, or heat pumps intelligently and cost effectively.
 
The rise of smart technologies and the Internet of Things will see buildings transformed into complex sensor networks that give facility managers the ability to track, measure and collect data on virtually any aspect of operations then tweak power, heating or cooling systems to improve performance.
 
The drive to reduce the carbon impacts associated with materials used in construction is likely to result in an increasing trend for materials that store more carbon than they release during manufacture, and the resulting ‘natural’ aesthetic can have the added benefit of improving the mental wellbeing of occupants.
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Fabric First

Maximising the efficiency of the building envelope is often key to thermal performance, and innovative technical solutions are expected to help cut energy use and tackle the varied impacts of climate change.
 
Greater reliance on off-site manufacture could improve the consistency and the technical performance of fixed elements that make up external walls, roofs and floors and better integrate them with building services.
 
High-performance insulation is often key to maximising building energy efficiency – something that we have always believed very strongly in. Our recent innovations include Quadcore, a closed-cell insulated panel with U-values as low as 0.08 W/m²K, and the vacuum insulation panel OPTIM-R, which provides an insulating performance up to five times better than commonly used insulation materials in a minimal thickness of material.
 
Climate scientists have warned of more extreme weather conditions as a result of global warming including sudden spikes in temperature that increase the risk of buildings overheating. As a result, properties may require more responsive control over ventilation and cooling systems, and the ability to adapt to ‘summer’ days in winter and ‘winter’ days in summer.
 
Thermal mass, currently used to absorb and store heat energy during the day, in materials like concrete and brick, then release it at night, might require a rethink as nocturnal temperatures rise. And buildings in arid climates, that have come to rely on air conditioning, may in future revert to more traditional and passive design ideas, such as overhangs and external shading to reduce their environmental impact.
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Tick Tock

Construction and the built environment accounts for around one-third of global emissions and therefore has a crucial role to play in meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement and keeping global temperatures at a sustainable level.
 
According to the latest UN-backed research from the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction, buildings with near-zero energy and zero-emissions must become the global construction standard within the next decade even to enable a modest 2% energy performance improvement up to 2030. Meanwhile, the rate of energy efficient renovations must improve by 3% over the same period.
 
This will require the ongoing commitment of Governments and industry and a greater awareness amongst the general public of the impacts of the buildings in which they choose to live, work and play.
 
In a recent interview, architect Lord Norman Foster said he believes future generations will be much more demanding and questioning of what their potential employers do to tackle climate change, which will result in a shift towards more sustainable, good quality working environments that are good for business and for the environment. This shows how sustainability can become part virtuous feedback loop, not only boosting building performance, but providing knock on benefits for human wellbeing, for productivity and for the economy. Those are targets anyone can get behind.

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