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  • Level 1: Introductory

Brick by brick

Updated Friday 17th September 2010

Matthew Bailey and Adrian Speller from Speller Metcalfe ecobuild discuss the proposed 2016 Code for Sustainable Homes, and explain how they are working to reduce the environmental impact of buildings This interview was recorded at the ecobuild 2010 event in London, UK


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How did you get interested in ecobuild?

Matthew:  I went to university, did a geography degree.  I didn’t have, probably have any ideas that I was going to end up in the building industry whatsoever.  I went and did some site labouring, during my summer holidays, and when I came out of university I carried on from there basically.  Went and did a HNC in Building Studies and studied as a quantity surveyor, and from there went forward.  Where we are now is that, kind of, started doing the environmental side of things, which is great because it’s kind of picking up back from where we started in the geography side of things.  Adrian’s taken a fairly similar route to myself.

Adrian:  Yeah.  I mean likewise to Matthew I did a geography and English joint honours at university.  It’s actually a family company still so my dad’s one of the managing directors of the company, and I’ve always sort of been involved with construction sites since I was about yay high, sweeping up and.  I mean the company started in about 1995 so I was involved in projects then just labouring to earn some pocket money in the summer holidays and to pay off the student overdraft during the semester breaks, and after university again the bank balance was fairly depleted.

So I don’t know if I just sort of drifted back into Speller Metcalf and it seems like a natural place to stay.  But ever since then we’ve been quite fortunate to be involved in some sustainable projects.  And we’ve developed our expertise as we’ve carried out those projects to, I think we’re now at a point where we’re confident that we’ve bridged kind of the knowledge and skills gap that’s needed to get to zero carbon in construction and the higher levels of BREEAM and the Code for Sustainable Homes.

Matthew:  I think that I agree with what Adrian said.  Originally, we started doing BREEAM projects, probably the same as all the other main contractors out there.  But what we found was that the knowledge gap was quite vast.  We visited Eco Build just to have a walk around last year, went to some of the seminars, and there were some of the major players out there, some of the really big boys, who seemed quite scared by the fact that heading towards 2016, which isn’t that far away, they’ve got to have Level 6 Code for Sustainable Homes, and we were kind of thinking hang on a minute we’re actually building one of these in Birmingham.  So that was quite nice from our point of view.  So that’s why we’re here.  Speller Metcalf, we’ve got the subdivision of Eco Build, basically to say to people look we’re building contractible, we’ve got the expertise to do it.

Adrian:  From our point of view one of the main things that we have to do is educate the guys, onsite, who are putting these projects together brick by brick. Because until you get sort of philosophies like air tightness and insulation into their heads, it’s quite a step on from just traditional construction techniques, it’s, there’s much more attention to detail.  If we can educate our guys first, and then educate the wider construction supply chain, we’re halfway there I think.

Matthew:  I think, I mean in terms of the zero carbon house that we did in Birmingham, which is kind of way beyond Level 6, and it can part fill compliance in terms of the architectural side of it, as subcontractors, we’ve really got some keen involvement.  Some of the guys, you know, have not actually really necessarily thought about sustainability that much before and there they were us monitoring the CO2 of the vehicles that would come into their sites, and okay there’s a little bit of scepticism, initially, but as the project progressed.

Adrian:  They take ownership don’t they? Yeah.

Matthew:  They took ownership and it was really a team thing, and that’s kind of what we wanted to get across that our business is, as a main contractor is about forming that key part of the team.  A lot of projects, if they get through to us too late, they’ve missed the chance to score the credits.  We need to be there at the earliest stage.

Adrian:  At an early stage of the project.  And we can tell them, practically, if they can actually build something, it’s easy to draw it on a piece of paper.  But when it comes to physically putting it together onsite it’s a whole different kettle of fish.  So I suppose that’s where we come in with a bit of professional knowledge and common sense if you like – not that we’d say that to many architects but, yeah.

Matthew:  Yeah I mean we, as I say, we’ve found that some of the projects, tradition, down the traditional procurement route, through your bills of quantities and your lowest price, could actually end up costing the guys money because by the time it lands on our desks, it says okay you’ve won the project by traditional route, you‘ve got three weeks to get on the site.  By which time if you were looking for BREEAM excellent, the person way back here who hasn’t done their work and hasn’t done the credits, just can’t be recovered, so there’s no way of achieving it.  The same with the Code for Sustainable Homes there had to be a process before and through the job and after as well.

Adrian:  So I’d firstly had my doubts whether this 2016 target is going to be achieved.  I think there’s been a lot of debate at Ecobuild here this week about whether it’s going to be extended to 2022 to give a bit more time.  I think that part, our building legislation really needs to drive the change and linking carbon to an economic value.  So carbon capping major construction projects, it’s the only way really that it’s going to force people to consider the environmental impact.  I mean we’re here now and we’re considering already but there’s a lot of people out there who are still looking at the capital costs of the project, and until it’s linked to that capital cost.

Matthew:  Yeah I mean, there’s a lot of people who still aren’t considering the lifecycle cost of their building.  There’s obviously building regs at the moment, in terms of air tightness is ten, whereas this house for example here was less than one, it’s ten times better, we’re not necessarily advocating that every single property should be built to this amazingly high standard, which is the 2016 double six standard.  But in terms of saving money in the long run, getting those robust air tightness details, that’s the most important thing.

Adrian:  Insulation, yeah.

Matthew:  Your PVs on your roof, your microrenewables, they not necessarily do save lots of money because it’s about the building fabric itself.  They can be bolted on at a later stage.  But if you don’t get your air tightness membrane correct when you’re building it there’s just no way you can get back into it.

Adrian:  And compared to other European countries, like Germany and Denmark and Scandinavia, where more than anything Scandinavia the climate’s forced them to ensure that their building fabric is efficient, we’re miles behind.  Our air tightness levels for building regs; we’re the equivalent of a colander really.  They’re pretty rubbish.  So I think we need to step up sooner rather than later to catch up.

What have you seen as this exhibition that you think is the future?

Matthew:  We’ve not really had much chance to walk round yet.

Adrian:  We haven’t had much chance get out and about yet.

Matthew:  The best product we saw last year, and it’s here this year, and they’ve actually properly launched it, was the Eco Sheet wasn’t it?

Adrian:  Yeah, sort of recycled hoarding product.  So a lot of our sites we had to put up metres and metres of plywood to screen the site off for security and safety reasons but, and then generally unless we can reuse that on another project it gets kind of thrown away.  And this stuff’s already made out of recycled materials.  It’s waterproof, durable and I think there’s much more potential for reusing it from project to project.

Matthew:  Corporate coloured as well.  You know, they use coloured material. It’s seemed, it just seemed a really good idea.  They said it’s the equivalent cost of ply.  I’m not sure about that at the moment but obviously it’ll go from there.

Adrian:  Yeah, also maybe another one, clay floors.  I don’t know if there’s a stand here at Eco Build but we’ve put clay floors in on a couple of projects.  Obviously clay is a pretty cheap material.  You can go and dig it out the garden if it’s the right kind of earth, just compact it on the floor and finish it with bees wax, you’ve got a lovely natural finish.  Believe it or not very easy to maintain, low embodied carbon, so yeah.

Matthew:  At the end of the day when you decide to knock a building down in a hundred and fifty years’ time, what you’re left with is mud, which it was to start with.  So in terms of low carbon product you can’t really get any more low carbon than that.

What do you see for the future?

Adrian:  I don’t think that the 2016 target will be met for Code Level 6.   I think we’ll be a lot further along the path.  I think I see standards like BREEAM and the Code meshing a lot more with passive house design philosophies.  I think there’s a lot of valid criticism about BREEAM and the Code that it’s very much a box ticking exercise at the moment, and you can achieve higher levels without necessarily looking at the energy efficiency of the building through ticking the boxes on the other credits.  I think the construction industry at a skills level will have to step up to meet the wider demand for these sustainable projects.  But I’d like to see how we get out of the economic situation at the moment before we progress towards that.  Because at the moment, the bottom line is it’s a fight for survival, especially for small to medium sized companies like ourselves, but there you go.

Matthew:  I see it that environmental awareness and the education onsite is going to be very much like health and safety.  Whereas you go back twenty, twenty-five years, health and safety, a lot of people were like well what on earth’s that.  It’s the same with sustainable building products, environmental issues, this.  It’s a growing consciousness amongst people.

Adrian:  It’s getting more and more accepted.

Matthew:  The size of this scale of this exhibition here is, you know, testament to that.  But it’s increased in size from last year and they’re moving to Excel next year, which makes it even bigger.  And the guys onsite, you know, ten years ago wouldn’t necessarily considered about the air tightness, and then you’ve got guys who just, say bricklayers, your carpenters, who understand the details and take them onboard, but I think.

Adrian:  They’re quite competitive about it.

Matthew:  They’re quite competitive about getting them right, and I think obviously over the next five to ten years there’ll be people who can’t, you can’t ignore it.  They’ll become like dinosaurs.  You know, there’ll always be the person who are why should I bother wearing a hard hat, why should I wear a seat belt in my car? But those people will slowly fade away and disappear, and it’ll be a trickle effect for people.

Adrian:  Yeah.


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