MESH Energy Panel Discussion

Challenges to retrofitting the UK housing stock

I was invited to join the panel of experts for the recent MESH Energy discussion, looking at the challenges we are all facing when retrofitting the UK housing stock. The aim of the session was to understand how we could adapt the current housing stock in the UK, to tackle the fuel crisis and to reach the critical net-zero targets.

There were some interesting questions, including: What role do you think architects have when it comes to retrofitting the UK housing stock in light of the fuel crisis? Can you explain the difficulties when considering embodied carbon in retrofitting of buildings? We know retrofitting can provide an influx of new jobs, but how can we bridge the skill gap? If you were in change of the political retrofit, what would you priorities?

I was joined by three brilliant experts, each at the forefront of their specific area of the sustainable sector, so it was a great discussion to have with some interesting input from each person.

  • Graham Hendra, an independent heat pump consultant with over a decade in the renewables sector specialising in air to water heat pumps.
  • Jenny Wallace, Operations Director at MESH Energy, with over a decade of practical experience in the energy industry consultancy.
  • Graham Lock, founder of Low Carbon Homes a nationwide independent retrofit network.

The discussion was hosted on MESHWorks, the free community hub that brings together sustainably conscious members across the design, architecture, built environment. If this is an area of interest to you it is well worth looking into, details can be found here. 

MESH Energy are independent building performance consultants who I have had the pleasure of working with them on multiple projects, most recently when looking at sustainable energy solutions for St Margaret’s Church refurbishment. It was a privilege to be asked to be part of this event, as it is such an important topic and so central to Studio BAD’s company ethos of reuse.

The watch can be viewed here. 

The benefits of reusing and repurposing existing buildings

Recently I was invited to take part in the MESH energy webinar series where I talked about the benefits of upgrading and repurposing existing buildings. At a time where the conversation around the environment and climate change is happening across society as a whole, I am always surprised that the design sector is not discussing this issue in more detail and facing it head on with positive solutions.

We have been working on several varied projects that are reusing a current building. Just by looking at the statistics from Historic England, it is astonishing how damaging it is to build a new building when there is an alternative and environmentally better solution.

‘Compared to a refurbishing a traditional Victorian terrace, a new building of the same size produces up to 13 times more embodied carbon. This equates to around 16.4 tonnes of CO2 which is the equivalent of the emissions released by driving 60,000km’

The design approach to repurposing a building is quite different, each project will bring its own challenges and a successful refurbishment is able to turn these into opportunities. Within our ‘October Books’ project, which has repurposed an old high street bank into a community book store, it was not possible to remove the old walk in vault from the building so this was integrated into the interior design and is now used as the storage room with the old door kept in place as a feature behind the service counter.

Our St Margaret’s church project in Southsea, Portsmouth, is nearing completion of Phase 1 of their refurbishment, thermal upgrade, extension and repurpose to deliver a church that could meet the needs of its congregation. The building had no central heating installed, to retrofit this we decided the best solution was an air sourced heat pump and trench underfloor heating, laid in zones across the building. This solution gave us full flexibility across the floor space which was essential for this building. In keeping with the need for internal flexibility we have designed ‘mean-while’ solutions such as seating, screens and even a café on wheels, this allows the interior of the church to be configured and used as the community needs, with future proofing the design and also reducing the costs.

As we had to remove the old parquet flooring, to allow for the underfloor heating and a polished concrete floor, we were delighted that we were able to repurpose it and sell it on. Not only is this environmentally positive but it also raised much needed funds for the church building project.

In each project we believe the key to success has been achieved through two way communications, through deep listening we are able to really understand what people are saying which often unlocks the potential to a space.

The full webinar can be viewed here

‘If you help one person, you help humanity’ Ai Weiwei