by Michael Wright, Associate
Appropriately, this ‘Dear Green Place’ is the literal translation of Glasgow from the original Gaelic, and this November, all eyes will be on the city as major decisions are made to affect a sustainable and green outcome for our future.
The ‘Conference of the Parties’, or COP26 (this being the 26th annual summit), is starting this Sunday at a time of extraordinary upheaval and change across the globe. Next week, it is expected that around 25,000 negotiators, government representatives, businesses, and citizens will congregate for twelve days in Glasgow – the location of our Scotland office.
Ironically, Glasgow was one of the UK cities that witnessed some of the greatest rates of industrialisation during the 18th and 19th centuries. It was known as the ‘Second City of the Empire’ as a nod to its burgeoning size, ability to draw people from all corners of the country, and insatiable appetite for commerce and mercantile activity.
Glasgow has always been an uber-capitalist city, displaying a unique ability in deriving profit from whatever social, geographical, or political cards it has been dealt. That the pendulum has swung from the feverish industrial activity of times past to hosting next month’s COP 26 serves to illustrate how fast times change, and how urgent the climate change challenges have become.
One of the key objectives of COP26 is for governments to come together and review the goals set in Paris in 2015; plans which have been found to have fallen significantly short in its aim of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.
Construction often has a cost-first mindset, with sustainability coming some way down the list. To address this, sustainability is becoming a key part of our agenda, whether in our pre-acquisition TDD reports, our M&E design services, or in our tendering and procurement processes on behalf of our clients. For instance, where are materials sourced from, and can they be sourced from recycled sources? For purchasers and vendors surveys, what sustainable measures are already in place and what could be enhanced?
In addition, it is incumbent on Watts Heritage, as conservation professionals, to ensure that we stay abreast of the technical challenges posed by the multitude of interventions being proposed to help cut emissions in buildings.
The UK Government has just announced its new heat pump grants as part of the new Heat and Buildings Strategy to encourage households to swap their gas boilers with low-carbon heat pumps. Sounds positive and progressive in theory, but as with much in life – the devil is in the detail. Heat pumps are designed for dwellings that are well insulated and 70% of the UK’s building stock is pre-1940, so retrofitting insulation and draughtproofing measures will be key.
Traditionally-built buildings must be allowed to ‘breathe’; any retrofitting measure risks interstitial condensation and timber decay. For those that live in a listed building, technical challenges to meet the energy efficiency guidelines within conservation legislation may be daunting. When a building owner is asked by their local authority Conservation Officer for technical drawings to illustrate how their proposed heat pump pipework will not damage original lath-and-plaster walls, or for a structural assessment confirming that the notching of timber floor joists for the passage of pipework is acceptable, Watts’ Heritage team are able to provide in-depth knowledge and experience to ensure that precisely the right balance is struck between permitting the installation of both building fabric interventions and mechanical and electrical systems to reduce CO2 emissions, whilst also protecting the historic fabric forming the traditional buildings that we are seeking to safeguard.
As ever when contemplating works to traditional buildings, the challenge of doing as much as is necessary, but as little as possible, looms large for conservation practitioners, and never more so as the traditional buildings of the United Kingdom become a focus area to tackle this climate crisis.
The Watts’ Heritage team covers the whole of the UK. If you are responsible for a traditional property, and you require professional advice in respect of proposed repairs, refurbishments, alterations, or energy-saving retrofitting measures please contact Michael Wright, Suzannah Meade, or Robyn Sparkes
The Watts Heritage Building Consultancy team enjoys decades of experience in helping our clients maintain, repair, and retrofit their traditional buildings. If you consider you would benefit from our expertise, please get in touch.
Michael Wright is an Associate Building Surveyor at Watts Group and Chair of the Watts Heritage Consultancy Department.