Sustainable Building & Services Course - Birmingham

Guest blog by delegate Malcolm Glenister, Dipl. Arch. (Glos.,) RIBA, Director of BPL Architecture, Tewkesbury, Glos., GL20 5NX.

I attended the 2-day introductory course "Sustainable Building & Services", at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, 1046, Bristol Road, Selly Oak, Birmingham, B29 6LJ, on 12th - 13th May, 2009, which was a very rewarding and enjoyably informative 2 days, with a small group of fellow architects in tranquil landscaped surroundings just off the A38.

The 2 days were packed full of interesting and useful information across a wide range of topics, which actively involved the 9 architects from a diverse range of practices and locations.

Day 1 started with a general introduction to The Green Register from Lucy Pedler, a practising architect experienced in sustainable issues, who established The Green Register in 2000, and whose quiet but confident delivery bode well for the later sessions.

Session 1 was "Sustainable Building - The Global Picture", presented by Rob Borruso, an engineer with backgrounds in mechanical engineering and environmental science, who sped through the vast range of issues covering climate change, water, resource depletion, ozone loss, and health with unscripted witty presentations interspersed with challenging questions.

Session 2 was "Relevant Legislation", a dry subject but presented well by Lucy Pedler, covering the wealth of recent legislation succinctly and clearly, and like Rob beforehand, gave further sources of reference to follow up. It was perhaps not so surprising that there have been over 1500 pieces of environmental legislation in the UK since the early 1990s, but there has been a progressive increase in what is demanded, with ever higher standards.

Session 3, again with Lucy, was entitled "The External Envelope & Healthy Interiors", and covered topics headed - the relevance of the external envelope, - construction types, - thermal mass, - passive solar gain, - airtightness, - ventilation & air conditioning. This was a very full session in terms of information received over such a range, but was delivered with knowledge and authority, with plenty of audience engagement to keep people focused.

Session 4 covered "Sustainable Water in the UK", and was presented by Cath Howell who has a background in conventional plumbing, but now runs a company specialising in sustainable water systems,(ech2o.co.uk). Cath was a very knowledgeable & interesting presenter who challenged a lot of the audiences` current thinking, and was able to illustrate the talk with some of the most recent products available.

Session 5, again with Cath was "Low Carbon Technologies Part 1", which discussed low & zero carbon, carbon literacy, carbon rating, zero carbon homes, code for sustainable homes, costs, and then the range of technologies available, - passive solar, - solar thermal, - photovoltaics, - biomass, - wood pellets, with some case studies, and concluding with grants available and diminishing resources.

Session 6, "Low Carbon Technologies Part 2", was an entertaining and instructive virtuoso presentation by Rob Borruso, starting with the current global and national status, then giving 4 top tips to carbon reduction, more efficient lighting, controls, insulation, CHP, sustainable air-con, renewables, micro-hydro, heat pumps - ground source, -air source, - waste air, biomass, wind, PV, concluding with good & bad, what’s next & what works.

This first day left me exhausted with my head spinning, and unable to sleep that night as it all went round in my head, but looking forward to another full-on day tomorrow. I was not disappointed! Day 2 gave a series of 4 sessions by choice out of a possible 7 on offer, and I had made my selection.

Day 2, Session1, was "Life Cycle Analysis", presented by Lucy Pedler, which explained LCA and Whole Life Costing, with sources of information, resources, embodied energy, manufacturing, performance, waste and materials/availability. This was another entertaining and thought-provoking session which stressed the need to `break the line - make a cycle`

Day 2, Session 2, Lucy again, was " Breathing Construction", which covered ecological issues, timber-frame construction, materials, airtightness/Part L, passive stack ventilation, vapour resistance, insulation (natural & conventional), air-tightness tests, and non-domestic case studies. Again this proved to be another busy and engaging presentation, with a wealth of references for further information.

Day 2, Session 3, presented by Rob Borruso was "Delivering Sustainable Timber", which explained the various schemes available to the specifier in terms of Certification, and the practicalities of achieving deliverability. The aim was re-defined as `how not to get it wrong`, as getting it 100% right is fraught with difficulties. Some of the pitfalls and problem sources were highlighted in Rob’s inimitable presentation based on practical experience.

Day 2, Session 4, the final one, led by Cath Hassell, tackled "Sustainable Drainage Systems & Alternative Sewage Systems", and went through the gamut of SUDS + the components - source control, conveyance mechanism, infiltration, & maintenance, then onto alternative sewage systems such as compost toilets, reedbeds and finally a workshop based on a real project, which elicited a range of responses, but where everyone had grasped and understood the fundamentals.

In the end a tiring but satisfying and enjoyable 2 days with a lot of stimulating ideas as well as questions, plus leads to further references and information sources, and a shared conviction amongst those attending to do more towards achieving sustainability. Several challenges emerged, such as improving existing building stock, more careful use of ever dwindling resources, and to spread education and awareness of the issues.

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