Fabric First Round Table Debate
Posted: February 25, 2013
| Bruce Meechan, the Technical Editor for MMC Magazine, was invited to chair a round-table discussion between leading industry figures, looking at the ‘Fabric First’ approach to construction. Those present were Mike Stevenson – Development Director at Sidey Limited and hosts for the discussion, John Freeman – Director of Architectural practice Church Lukas, Simon Orrell’s – Managing Director of Frame Wise & Director of the UKTFA, Pete Blunt – Managing Director of Innovare Systems, and Stewart Dalgarno – Director of Product Development at The Stewart Milne Group.|
Discussion panels have become a familiar feature to construction industry conferences, though their timeframe rarely allows the participants the chance to make more than a couple of points before the chairman has to announce the speakers for the next session. I
Asked initially to offer their own definitions of “Fabric First” as a concept, Stewart Dalgarno from the Stewart Milne Group said: “For me, it’s about speed of construction, quality of construction, and getting your superstructure up with all the windows, doors and insulation integrated – wind and watertight – so that you can carry on building inside, efficiently”.
“Then not only have you got a good external envelope in terms of energy
I questioned Stewart as to whether he
This was a point echoed by Mike Stevenson of Sidey whose KitFix ® system is now playing such a pivotal role in enabling fenestration to be included in the offsite process as a part of the main structure; “only by building with a ‘fabric first’ approach can you truly justify the claimed energy performance figures of the entirety of the integrated structure, rather than rely on the often over-stated achievements of products installed later”.
Simon Orrell’s, MD of Frame Wise, added: “I think these days it is all about solutions, rather than individual products because, at the end of the day, do you want a house built by individual people, under site conditions – where it’s sunny one day and snowy the next – or a factory-fitted, structurally airtight, thermally efficient solution.
“It is a case of Fabric First – fit it and forget it – because you are actually in control of the performance of that building. You haven’t got on-going maintenance costs, on-going running costs, and you are not fitting products to the structure to help them perform today which in reality could fail in five or ten years’ time.”
As an architect who has worked on many housing
He continued: “ For us, as a practice, this is probably the key difference from low to zero carbon technologies, which seek primarily to meet current energy demands in the home by promoting solar and
If you offered the public a car that you would only have to put fuel in occasionally, they would buy it. The same principle is true of a ‘fabric first’ constructed house.
What was coming to the fore was that there is a general need for education and support, both industry and government, and
It was also the view that there was a need for much more support from government. Other products and other sectors are significantly subsidised, when in-fact Fabric First appears to be stymied by outdated legislation, although the first green shoots of legislative support are starting to appear.
When John Freeman noted that Building Regulations did not offer a level playing field for Fabric First to compete, Stewart Dalgarno reported that although Scotland’s Climate Change Act stipulates the use of 15% micro-renewables, lobbying has brought about the prospect of amendment which – from 2014 – could include “all forms of carbon reduction technologies,” including Fabric First and offset strategies. Apparently the planning authorities in Aberdeen have already accepted that a new development of 800 homes will achieve the 15% through enhanced building envelopes. What the panel all agreed was the “common sense approach” to energy saving has won recognition.
In particular, it was noted that the Scottish Government has recognised the country’s expertise in timber frame as a core strength north of the border, and a more logical way of tackling carbon reduction that importing PV panels from the world’s highest carbon economy.
Our panel also dismissed the fallacy that a Fabric First approach reduces the number of dwellings which can be built on a site, due to greater wall dimensions. Simon Orrell’s observing that housebuilders were now following commercial developers by adding extra insulation, but switching to lightweight, thinner cladding solutions.
Peter Blunt, MD of Innovare Systems expanded on this saying: “The other side is the understanding of how they (clients) approach it, so if you examine the specification for a building, they’ll quote U-values and almost forget about airtightness and thermal bridging. The point being that you can have a U-value of 0.1, but if you go to backstop Y-value on that, and backstop airtightness, you will get the same energy usage as you would with a U-value of 0.2: you just have to be cleverer with the detailing.”
This insight prompted John Freeman to cite contractors’ reluctance to attempt airtightness figures of below 6; and their assumption that achieving it by using SIPs systems would involve the same on-costs as they would incur in terms of site supervision if they were to build in a traditional manner.
It was in fact generally felt that contractors had lost the in-depth understanding of how to build, having replaced it with adeptness at bringing sub-contract packages to site. Our panellists felt that, across the board, large contractors failed to grasp the importance of interface detailing; having largely got rid of design managers from their teams. Furthermore, their reluctance to put too much reliance or risk with one supplier, stifles the adoption of holistic solutions. It is clear and was widely agreed that this mentality has to change, and that sub-contractors have to be invited into the design process from the outset, and be a part of the overall construction brief.
Stewart Dalgarno benefits from the developer perspective offered by sister company Stewart Milne Homes, but justifiably lamented that the ‘valuation community’ does not recognise the long term running cost savings offered by low energy homes; instead giving a Code 4 or 5 dwelling the same market valuation as second hand properties when it comes to the end user borrowing money. Peter Blunt remarked: “Fabric First is not going to gain traction just on the back of legislation, it has got to be driven by market forces and education”.
Could Government implemented mechanisms redress the balance? Both council tax and stamp duty tax relief were considered possible solutions.
Mike Stevenson of Sidey concluded the discussions by calling for more companies to join the debate on the value of building ‘Fabric First’ and to help to create a wider market awareness of the philosophy. Like all the other attendees he would like to see pressure applied to ensure a level playing field when it comes to government and legislative support, and an open discussion on the truest way of constructing to ensure the maximum performance when it comes to energy efficiency in construction in the UK.