Can better building envelopes bridge the green gap?
A report released by the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) in November 2015 highlighted an energy efficiency gap in the commercial buildings segment.
The report identifies that, while many premium and A-grade buildings have undertaken energy efficiency upgrades, the remaining mid-tier commercial buildings have low National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) energy ratings, if any, and are significantly lagging in the implementation of energy efficiency retrofits.
It is estimated that mid-tier buildings account for 80 percent of Australia’s 52 million square metres of commercial office space.
The report identified a lack of awareness of energy efficiency benefits and a perception that investment in energy saving retrofits will not yield a return.
It is a common misconception that the use of energy saving insulation and building envelope design solutions carry substantial capital cost premiums, with limited return on investment. This may not always be the case.
While lighting and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) upgrades can deliver significant energy efficiency improvements, a 2012 report from McKinsey and Co Inc identified retrofitting existing buildings with improved envelopes and insulation as one of the biggest opportunities for improving energy efficiency globally.
Extensive research and energy modelling conducted by Kingspan Insulated Panels and leading environmentally sustainable design firm, Cundall, has proven that enhanced building envelopes can deliver substantial energy efficiency advantages to property stakeholders.
It shows that buildings constructed in Australia and New Zealand with products from Kingspan Insulated Panels’ range deliver capital savings in HVAC, lifetime operational energy and cost savings, peak load reduction, lifetime carbon emissions savings and a sound return on investment.
The design of a building envelope, and its technical standards, integrates many functions and has a direct influence on the indoor climate and a building’s HVAC requirements. This, in turn, influences energy consumption.
Enhancing building envelope design and construction in refurbishment projects can make a building cheaper to operate by creating a more consistent and comfortable indoor environment. Kingspan champions this approach and calls it Envelope First.
“It is a common misconception that the use of energy saving insulation and building envelope design solutions carry substantial capital cost premiums, with limited return on investment. This may not always be the case.
Envelope First focuses on optimising the insulation, airtightness, heat loss and gain, moisture control and daylight design of building enclosures for the building’s intended life, while also ensuring building services are geared to energy efficient operation.
This promotes lower energy consumption and carbon emissions, creating buildings that are environmentally responsible over their lifetime and have lower overall running costs.
Studies have also shown such environments promote improved work productivity, as well as the well-being, moods and interaction of personnel.
A holistic approach to building design, construction and management is essential for optimising indoor environments. Holistic building design is a multidisciplinary approach that concentrates on the design of the whole building, rather than just a specific area.
It enables more accurate, efficient and cost-effective design, which is essential to reduce the amount of energy consumed to a minimum. Various elements of a building, including the envelope, HVAC and lighting requirements, must be designed in parallel and in consultation with building management to minimise unnecessary energy consumption over the building’s life cycle.
In 2015, Kingspan Insulated Panels developed a three-phased approach to holistic building design called the Route to Net Zero Energy.
Backed by extensive, independent global research, it has identified Envelope First as the first step towards minimising energy consumption.
The second step involves introducing enhancements to the building envelope and/or internal ducting and pipework, as well as incorporating zero or low carbon technologies to further reduce the overall energy footprint.
The final step is to balance the overall annual performance of the building. This may be through enhanced renewable energy technologies or investment in off-site energy saving schemes.
Globally, this is an era of energy efficiency and improving financial returns by designing, constructing, operating and maintaining facilities that can be managed at minimal cost and maximum performance.
Optimising building envelopes through holistic building design or retrofits provides forward thinking businesses with a significant opportunity to reduce Australia’s carbon footprint.
The author, Dr Mark Tatam, is the technical director for Kingspan Insulated Panels, covering South East Asia and Australasia. He has extensive experience in heavy industry and manufacturing in building industry environments, with previous experience with BHP Billiton, CSR and BlueScope in process modelling and optimisation, new product development and strategic marketing.