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Cool Space cranks up design heat

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At last week's AJ 'Cool Space' conference, a packed audience heard speakers address the issues of climate change and the need for low-energy, sustainable design solutions. Austin Williams was there

'Cool Space' began, importantly, with Steve Irving from Oscar Faber presenting an 'insider's' guide to the current state of thinking on the revisions to Part L, due for release in the summer. The first batch of regulations update, which, he said, contained 'not much research but did contain a statement of future aims', will be published in June with follow-on documents in 2003.

Tighter U-values and lighting standards will be among the key changes, along with new standards for heating and air conditioning efficiency. Reductions in insulation standards will not be as severe as expected in this first draft, due to the fact that it was assumed that the industry does not have the capacity to comply at present.

Roof U-values, for example, will eventually come down to 0.25, but this year's regulations will stipulate a reduction to 0.35 (down from 0.45).

There will be new lighting requirements to ensure luminaire system efficacy within offices, industrial buildings and storage facilities (domestic buildings are exempt). It is predicted that this will set a limit of 40 luminaire-lumens per circuit watt. Although there will be exemptions, manufacturers, as well as specifiers, will have to ensure compliance.

A critical implication for architects is that there will be mandatory performance testing on non-domestic buildings over 1,000m 2to show compliance in use. These tests must be carried out by suitably qualified persons, who will self-certificate the works. Architects will have to complete a range of additional documentation on completion of a scheme, including air leakage indices, installed plant capabilities and controls and all relevant test and commissioning documentation.

Patrick Bellew of Atelier Ten presented a thought-provoking critique on naturally ventilated buildings. Suggesting that opening windows was 'psychologically profligate', he described an unnamed naturally ventilated primary school building which had air flows sufficient to comply with regulations, but with two to three times the 2within the central teaching areas. To avoid such build-ups, the ventilation rate would have to be in the region of five to six air changes per hour, with a consequent rise in heating loads. The question of naturally ventilated versus sealed buildings proved to be highly contentious.

Guy Battle of Battle McCarthy explored the difficulties of building energy efficient buildings for 'flexible clients' given each client's different expectations. He presented his experience of American clients, who 'don't understand the concept of best value over best cost'.

The relative lack of awareness of low-energy designs in America was driven by economic factors - reductions in energy use and reductions in costs were not seen to be synonymous. Battle found, for example, that there was an almost total lack of openable window mechanisms, 'because they don't exist in that market - there's no demand for them.' Battle ended by suggesting that energy-aware designers are 'five to 10 years ahead of America in terms of sustainable architecture', but architects and manufacturers are going to have to show the economic benefits on the 'bottom line' in order to convince the Americans that it is a worthwhile investment.

Crispin Matson of Rybka Battle presented a straightforward outline of the perceived problems and questioned whether the issue of energy saving is being approached in a sufficiently rational manner.

He concluded that there are many technological advances such as fuel-cells, solar air conditioning and micro-turbines which should be encouraged and incorporated onto schemes as a way of mitigating the consequences of climate change.

Noting that wind power is a relatively simple technology, he asked why only 18MW of energy, in total, had been brought on line last year in the UK, compared with 300MW in Denmark and 1,600MW in Germany.

The AJ will take a more detailed look at some of the issues raised at 'Cool Space' on 8 March.

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