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Alterations & Fashion

‘Energy use’ is usually associated with how much energy is used to construct a new building. However, this is only part of the story. Most buildings get altered and repaired and redecorated a considerable number of times during their lifetime and taken to an extreme, some houses are constantly having ‘makeovers’. This can vastly increase the embodied energy. The challenge in green building terms is how to adapt to changing needs and move with fashion while still using the least embodied energy.

There are several ways of approaching this –

  • flexible design and Lifetime Homes
  • a building which is initially ‘fashion neutral’ but has –
    • variable decoration – hangings, screens, pictures etc. which can be moved around
    • variable lighting – to create different feelings and moods
    • reconfigurable furnishings – moveable mats, runners, throws, hangings, drapes.
  • a ‘classic’ design. In a way this is a copout. It’s the notion of a building which adheres to some style or design principle so closely that it will never need to change, so embodied energy due to alterations will be a very minor problem. This is approaching the idea of a listed building, say a Georgian house which is so ‘perfect’ in its own way that major changes will be unnecessary or undesirable. This whole area is very much down to personal taste.
  • check out the ideas in A Pattern Language. This gives a-run down of the enduring qualities of design which are mainly not energy intensive.

Both Flexible design and fashion neutrality are areas which deserve considerable design effort because they can make life much easier and more enjoyable in the future. It is fun to be able to change the look and feel of a house easily and without too much cost (to the environment). Fashion neutrality starts with the idea that living spaces can be treated more like theatre sets or art galleries than semi-permanent fashion statements. We all do this to some extent anyway with different levels of lighting or the odd sliding door and it is possible to extend this concept so that the look and feel of rooms can be varied enormously without going for major redecorations (this approach is used a great deal in Scandinavia). Some of the ways of achieving this are –

  • Put some thought into variable lighting on separate circuits so you can create different moods and effects
  • Have mainly plain light neutral coloured walls, floors and ceilings which reflect artificial light in ways that suit the lighting. This can also help with paintwork repairs which can be ‘touched up’ rather than total redecoration.
  • Rely on artifacts such as paintings and wall hangings for decoration rather than the surface behind.
  • Use rugs and carpets which can be moved around rather than fitted carpets.
  • Have a couple of rooms which can be easily opened up to each other using large, well designed sliding doors.
  • Choose furniture which lends itself to variable configurations.

The Building Regulations make a distinction between new and existing dwellings when it comes to the rules on energy saving (Approved Documents L1A and L1B respectively)

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