The directive of the Climate Change Act (CCA) of 2008 is for the UK to become a low-carbon economy by 2050 by achieving an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the levels found in 1990.

Part of the CCA target is the Zero Carbon Buildings policy which has instigated an increase in demand for zero carbon buildings.

Zero carbon buildings

40% of the UK’s carbon footprint is attributable to the built environment. According to the UK Green Building Council, “almost half of this is from energy used in buildings (e.g. plug loads and cooking) and infrastructure (e.g. roads and railways) that has nothing to do with their functional operation.”

As M&E (mechanical and electrical) consultants, the team at Robert Whetham Associates are providing building and design services on a number of low carbon projects such as fire stations and schools, with the aim of facilitating zero carbon buildings.

How do you make a zero carbon building?

Operational energy of a commercial building only accounts for around 40 – 50% of its carbon footprint. Whole life carbon emissions from materials sourcing and construction, along with maintenance, repairs and eventual demolition also need to be taken into account for a building to be completely zero carbon.

Here are some considerations to address when building a zero carbon building.

Energy-efficient design

A low zero carbon report during the initial design phase lays out your low carbon intentions. Aspects to consider should include site selection, U-values (how well barriers such as insulation, walls, windows etc resist the conductive flow of heat), climate, size, ventilation, heating source and insulation.

A site location with adequate exposure to the sun is essential for the use of energy-efficient PV (Photovoltaic) systems. Variables such as air, moisture and daylight all impact on the design for energy efficiency.

Airtight sealing and insulation

Making a building airtight is essential in reducing carbon emissions. A continuous seal provides optimal energy efficiency of the building fabric, as well as the methods of cooling and heating of the building.

The combination of robust sealing, insulation and highly efficient building services is crucial in the building services design of a zero carbon building.

Solar energy

Commercial buildings with a PV (Photovoltaic) or solar power system typically benefit from a return on investment in around 8-10 years. The generous roof space of commercial buildings enables businesses to generate their own solar energy, making this an obvious design choice in the pursuit of a zero carbon building. With no moving parts, solar panels have the added benefit of minimal ongoing maintenance costs.

Energy efficient systems and appliances

Installing energy efficient systems and appliances to reduce carbon emissions can be costly if you don’t understand the market. As an M&E consultancy with many years of experience, we advise our clients on the most efficient and cost-effective systems and appliances that suit their individual needs.

Energy saving measures in the design of a building can reduce its dependence on mechanical and electrical systems, and therefore could operate on smaller, cheaper and more energy-efficient M&E equipment and systems.

How can we help?

For expert help or advice in constructing a zero carbon building, please get in touch with the team at Robert Whetham Associates either via telephone 0161 624 5544 or email us

We design and provide building services for new zero carbon buildings, and can facilitate a reduction in the carbon emissions of existing buildings.

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