English | Cymraeg Tel: 029 2076 5760 Connect: Twitter

Putting sustainability into practice

Much of the discussion and debate on sustainability and housing focuses on new housing. Nick Tune from the Building Research Establishment (Wales) provides WHQ with a taster of two projects that are tackling the challenge of making the existing housing stock more sustainable.


The Building Research Establishment (BRE) Group\’s mission is to build a better world. With the support of its parent company in Watford, BRE Wales aims to:

  • support sustainable development in the built environment by:
    • offering guidance to the private and public sectors on delivering sustainable buildings
    • conducting whole life costing assessments of buildings
    • minimising construction waste
    • recycling and the reuse of materials in construction applications
    • encouraging energy efficient practices in the Welsh built environment
  • encourage the use of BREEAM and Ecohomes throughout Wales to improve the environmental standard of homes and commercial buildings and to provide more accessible local training for Ecohomes and BREEAM assessors
  • introduce CLIP – the Construction Lean Improvement Programme – to Welsh businesses so they can improve productivity and quality and reduce costs
  • undertake product certification and environmental profiling of products
  • deliver innovation in the Welsh timber industry
  • deliver innovation in housing, including the use of Modern Methods of Construction
  • provide training for House Inspectors in preparation for new legislative requirements for selling homes

Sustainability and WHQS

Currently there are no sustainability standards for refurbishment of housing in Wales, and there is little understanding from the organisations that are undertaking major refurbishment programmes such as stock transfer registered social landlords (RSLs) as to what sustainability levels they should be working to and aspiring to reach. This makes it impossible for there to be any meaningful and measurable progress on sustainable refurbishment within the social housing sector.

In this context, Valleys to Coast Housing (V2C) approached Rounded Developments Enterprises, (a not for profit organisation based in Cardiff that runs a Sustainable Building Centre), in order to help develop a methodology and measurement tool that the organisation could use to gauge their environmental performance for their refurbishment programme.

Rounded Developments Enterprises then contacted BRE (Wales) to draw on their experience and knowledge in the area of Ecohomes XB in order to create a standardised toolkit that could be used across the RSL sector in Wales.

The organisations are now working together with a series of other partners on project, part-funded by the Welsh Assembly Government, which aims to create a Welsh Sustainable Refurbishment Standard, based on the BREAAM Ecohomes XB model, but purpose-built for the housing stock in Wales.

The new standard will use the WHQS as a baseline and will provide a range of levels that RSLs and any social housing provider across Wales will be able to use to examine overall housing stock requirements and determine the environmental performance of individual homes.

The standard will be divided into different levels so that it provides a model that, theoretically, can be applied to the range of properties that RSLs manage across Wales. It will:

  • include a series of measurement types, some of which will have mandatory requirements such as energy efficiency
  • cover sustainable development measurements of whole life cost analysis, carbon and embodied energy
  • provide a matrix for measuring cost implications and benefits of the different levels. RSLs such as V2C want clear guidance on which construction options provide the most cost effective carbon/sustainability improvement to their stock refurbishment programme
  • allow different sustainable criteria to be evaluated against different types of housing that will be encompassed by stock transfer schemes in Wales; a solution for a BISF house might not be the same as that suitable for a pre-20s terraced house

The draft standard will be tested on a sample of 10 properties within the stock of two South Wales-based RSLs (Valleys to Coast and Melin Homes), five built pre-1920 and five post war homes. Each of the homes will be refurbished to a level above WHQS, but within the financial constraints of the RSL. Costs will then be analysed so that they can be inputted into the standard 30-year business plan for planned maintenance. This will inform the development of the cost-benefit matrix.

The project will also investigate key social impacts such as local employment opportunities, training requirements, management implications, monitoring and evaluation requirements and supply chain/procurement issues.

It is anticipated that the Welsh Sustainable Refurbishment Standard and matrix will be available in July 2008.

Transforming the terraced home

The Heads of the Valleys area has a significant proportion of pre 1920s housing that is no longer fit for purpose. Recent housing market changes have resulted in more people moving out of Cardiff to the valleys areas and many communities have attracted people with higher incomes and higher expectations in terms of housing quality.

BRE Wales are working with the Heads of the Valleys Programme, Cynon Taf Housing Association and Rio Architects to explore how valleys terraced housing can be effectively brought up to date and fit for 21st century living. The concept does not involve flattening the homes; past experience has taught us that communities are not easily recreated. We didn’t see a half-hearted approach that involved plastering over the cracks to improve the homes as an option either. What is needed is a fundamental look at how these terraces can be made somewhere that people, particularly young families, really want to live.

A Cynon Taf Community Housing Group home in Penrhiwceiber will see a total face lift. The 3 storey home will have the rear of the house opened up to maximise light and views, open plan living will be created and the use of space reconsidered, with a private living space on the lower ground floor and kitchen and dining area on the ground floor. The home will incorporate secure cycle storage, facilities for recycling and a wide range of measures to improve energy efficiency. The cost and potential carbon dioxide savings of a range of energy efficiency measures have been calculated and the following recommended at a total cost of £2,360 and a saving of 2.10 tons of carbon dioxide each year:

  • cavity wall and 100mm roof insulation
  • super low E argon filled windows
  • low energy light fittings
  • low energy appliances
  • installation of room thermostats

The new houses will deliver high levels of sustainability at reasonable cost with energy improvement measures coming primarily from insulation and air tightness as opposed to ‘bolt on’ renewables. This project will demonstrate how valleys housing can be both sustainable and affordable and therefore desirable to live in.

Nick Tune is BRE Wales Director [email protected]

More information

BRE Wales www.bre.co.uk

BREEAM www.breeam.org

CLIP www.bre.co.uk

Cynon Taf Community Housing Group www.cynon-taf.org.uk

Ecohomes www.breeam.org

Ecohomes XB www.breeam.org

MMC www.modernmethods-construction.co.uk

Melin Homes www.melinhomes.co.uk

Rio Architects www.rioarchitects.com

Rounded Developments www.rounded-developments.org.uk

Valleys to Coast Housing www.v2c.org.uk

Sign up to our email newsletter

Every two months we'll email you a summary of the latest news & articles on the WHQ website. Better still, if you're a fully paid up magazine subscriber, you'll get access to the latest members-only articles as well.

Sign up for the email newsletter »

Looking to advertise in our magazine?

Advertising and sponsored features are a great way to raise your profile with our readership of housing and regeneration decision makers in Wales.

Find out more »