Climbing on a Sustainable Bandwagon
I have just had the rare privilege of attending an RIBA accredited seminar on “Innovation in Natural Ventilation”. For a sustainable building guy like me that is hot stuff. In these days of passive houses, ultra high insulation and ultra low air movement, Innovation in Natural Ventilation is just what I need.
So I duly pitch-up to the local college, full of anticipation for a couple of hours deeply immersed in thermal stacks, heat plumes, low pressure zones, thermal atria and natural convection. What did we get – a bloke selling windows.
A very nice bloke, who knows a lot about windows, but then there is only so much you can know about windows. He did tell us about a new window – parallel opening rather than top, bottom or side hung. Which was interesting for about 15 seconds but struggled to fill a 2 hours seminar.
The bloke’s sole claim for the sustainability of his windows was that opening a window means putting less cooling into the property. Which even he agreed was a bit thin in terms of sustainability credentials. These are, after all, glass panes in an aluminium and stainless steel frame. None or which are particularly sustainable.
By the end of the seminar the issue that was really making me cross was the title of the seminar. It had only one word of truth in it. There was no innovation (parallel opening windows might be an interesting spin but we have had sliding sashes for quite some time) and nothing natural. True, windows provide ventilation but that hardly warrants a 2 hour RIBA accredited seminar.
This was, in truth, another example of the double glazing industry finding a new way of selling an old product.
My view is that sustainability is a serious issue. Maybe I am bound to say that, but why wouldn’t I? I make a living from untangling the conflicting and often misleading information provided by companies purporting to offer a sustainable product. The Windsave wind turbine is a case in point. At £1,200 for your own micro-generation plant it looked like a good idea. The fact that it fundamentally does not work in the way the manufacturer’s suggest caused all sorts of people all sorts of problems, but didn’t seem to worry the manufacturers too much. Or the DTI who spent so much in grants for this one machine that it brought the whole grant scheme for all renewable energy technology crashing down.
Sustainability is said to be “meeting the needs of the current generation without impacting on the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. If the domestic housing industry is going to change to meet this challenge it has to be on the back of good information, with products that are truly innovative and that really are sustainable.
Maybe it is time for labelling! The BRE produce a guide to sustainable specification and RIBA have accredited this course. Maybe it is time for a star rating system for sustainable products so that the consumer (and the professional specifier) know what the real credentials of any product are. My guess is that the windows I saw today would struggle to get a single star, while wooden sliding sashes would be up at a 4 star rating.