Holistic net zero, safety and IAQ approach vital to ‘better buildings’ push – H&V News summit hears

Simultaneous demand for effective improvements in indoor air quality and the overall sustainability of a building has highlighted the importance of more holistic thinking about safety and performance

The potential to design buildings that can effectively and sustainably manage heat and air quality in the same space was a major point of discussion at the H&V News Better Buildings Summit.

A series of panel discussions held during last week’s online summit considered the different technologies, skills and policy needed to transform buildings to meet the complex needs of occupants. These needs include vital issues of health, safety and creating indoor spaces suitable for working and living in long-term that are sometimes having to be compromised.

The conclusions tapped into the summit’s main theme of defining and delivering ‘better buildings’, which was this year sponsored by Panasonic Heating and Cooling Solutions. A range of panels on the day looked at how both new and existing buildings can be improved with regards to their operational performance, environmental impacts and the experience of occupants to feel safe and comfortable in their homes and offices.

Among the points of discussion were the government’s ambitions for the upcoming uplift in Building Standards, as well as its focus to determine if minimum standards for embodied carbon should be implemented in England.

You can watch the whole summit here:

A new standard for IAQ regulation

A panel session focused on how industry and policy makers should look to define and establish clear benchmarks for upholding higher indoor air quality standards touched on the possible impact that the new building safety regulator could have on enforcing better practice.

Colin Timmins, director of building technologies with industry body BEAMA, said there could be a potentially profound role for the regulator in upholding standards that could impact efforts to uphold standards on the quality of air in buildings.

He cited the original stated aims of the regulator that is currently being implemented along with a wider array of proposals set out in the new Building Safety Bill currently making its way through parliament for review.

These stated aims include introducing a stricter approach around building safety and industry competence, along with the possibility of criminal charges in cases where individuals are failing to uphold safety obligations and standards.

However, Mr Timmins warned that the proposed legislation so far failed to clearly outline IAQ requirements in the bill’s provisions. This was despite growing scrutiny and awareness about IAQ as a health and safety issue due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

He said, “I think the problem is, it’s got to be something that is looking, in this context, at indoor air quality specifically.  IAQ is not mentioned in the Building Safety Bill as it stands and I think there was an amendment on the wellbeing side that was rejected.

“I think that lies at the bottom of a lot of the difficulties with Indoor Air Quality in that it’s just low down the agenda.”

Laura Mansel-Thomas, senior partner at Ingleton Wood, said during the session that any effort to drive meaningful change was likely to take at least three to five years with regards to the work of a regulator that already has a “very wide remit”.

Ms Mansel-Thomas said one interesting potential impact of the regulator would be its focus on competency in the construction, building engineering and maintenance sectors.

She added, “I think that’s what will change the whole industry and the way we all work. It comes out really strongly in the Grenfell Inquiry about competency and being competent to make decisions.”

Whether it will mean we all need to requalify as engineers in order to make the right decisions or whether we need to prove particular types of continuing professional development (CPD) – which I suspect is fairly likely – I think it will make a big difference to how we work as engineers. Probably mostly for the better.”

You can view the full IAQ discussion in the player below.

A holistic approach to sustainable buildings

The final panel of the summit looked at the overarching challenge of decarbonisation in the UK’s buildings, alongside aims to introduce improved standards around safety and the performance of crucial building systems.

Jade Lewis, chief executive of the Sustainable Energy Association (SEA) said the issue of sustainability needed to be much more holistic in terms of occupant needs when trying to deliver on the UK’s legal targets of ensuring all existing buildings are net zero carbon by 2050,

Ms Lewis said, “When you are talking about buildings and design, I think there is a huge opportunity while we are retrofitting for net zero, to think about health and wellbeing. As we know this is about much more than just carbon and energy efficiency. There is thermal comfort, lighting, acoustics and views of the outdoors.”

“All these things come in when you start thinking about health, but it makes sense to do it together and holistically and plan for that – then you can think about any trade-offs.”

The challenge of holistic thinking around health, comfort and sustainability did require careful planning and compromise, Ms Lewis added. A prime example of this was the issues of balancing sustainability with demand for lighting.

She stressed that it would be possible to make a building much more energy efficient from blocking up its windows. This design choice would come at great expense to occupants and their experience of being in and using a building.

Ms Lewis argued that focusing solely on the vital issue of decarbonisation when designing or retrofitting buildings could also result in unintended consequences in both the short and longer-term.

She said, “We’ve seen things like that in the past when just looking at carbon. So health and wellbeing really need to be considered and it would be really good to see all building projects, whether for new build or retrofit, put the person at the centre of that design and think about the outcomes for them.”

A focus based on primarily meeting the needs of occupants in a building would also ensure that any unintended consequences that are negatively impacting users as a result of building performance are minimised, said Ms Lewis.

She said it was a good thing to direct include health and wellbeing factors as part of any decarbonisation work in both existing buildings and new properties.

Ms Lewis added, “We’re not seeing that really at government level, just the focus on carbon. So I’d like to see a lot more of it.”

“It is a compromise, but we need to focus on the right outcomes for that person and then any negative impacts for them can be minimised.”


Tassos Kougionis, director of property and construction consultants McBains, said that adopting a user-centric approach to building design and performance should arguably be the essential purpose of any new build or retrofit work.

Mr Kougionis said it was crucial therefore to prioritise and plan for a range of current issues and issues that account for the possible changing needs of occupants with regard to temperature and air quality.  This would impact a range of building design decisions based on building designs such as windows and overheating risks, as well as external qualities such as airborne pollution from the surrounding area that can limit the ability to open windows.

He said that these challenges would put pressure on engineers to effectively deliver a more holistic thinking on buildings that would require much wider support.

Mr Kougionis added, “So skills and knowledge will be very important, policy supporting this initiative is very important and understanding the building itself that we are evaluating is also very important.”

You can view the full net zero panel discussion in the player below.

You can read more from the summit in the upcoming May edition of H&V News. 

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