Energy-Efficient Building Design



‘For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled. …’

Richard P Feynman.



Energy-efficient building design and the use of renewable energy are a logical response to at least three growing pressures:

  • Climate change;
  • The decline in the availability of fossil fuels;
  • The desire for more affordable energy bills.

Bottom Line

Lavish use of proven technology can sometimes reduce the energy consumed by a new building by 80%. This is without compromising on convenience and comfort standards and without incurring excessively high-cost measures.

Percentage savings nearly as high are sometimes feasible on major refurbishments. These include commercial building upgrades, redundant building conversions and total renovation of existing dwellings.

Practical Energy Advice

For 30 years, EAA has supported UK architects and engineers on energy-conscious designs. Projects include houses in Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Suffolk and London, non-domestic buildings in Shropshire, Essex, Kent and Norfolk. Measurements on some buildings on which EAA provided strategic design advice 25-30 years ago still place them among the most energy-efficient in the UK.

Usually, EAA was appointed directly by the client. Sometimes, EAA was a sub-consultant to the architects or M&E engineers; i.e., remunerated out of their fee. The usual responsibility is to suggest energy targets to meet, watch the design process constantly, advise as needed and ensure that the decisions made from start to finish are fit to deliver a low- or ultra-low-energy building. In some cases, the remit is just to comment on proposals already made by other design team member(s).

Beyond the Building Regulations

Minimum insulation standards in new UK buildings or extensions have risen over the years. But the standard attained can still be surprisingly low. Usually the top priority is to design out thermal bridges and other avoidable sources of needless heat loss. Second may be to re-think the construction system or materials so that they do ‘more with less’, followed by a re-consideration of the services proposals; i.e., heating and lighting systems.

Construction which has fewer thermal bridges and keeps in the heat more effectively, using the same thickness of insulation, may actually cost less than ‘patching-up’ Part L-compliant construction. It can be pretty cost-effective to design out components.


The services provided are entirely independent of all commercial interests and, at present, of any government involvement. The sole aim is to advise and explain to clients what measures will most help the planet and/or most reduce their personal energy bills, or to help other team members analyse and assess the options correctly.


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A daylit office building, Rochford, Essex. It also meets the Passivhaus Standard.

Picture © Simmonds Mills. 


Energy-Efficient Building Design image 2





Result of modelling an energy-efficient detached house with the Passivhaus Planning Package.

Source: EAA.


Proven Approach

A discrepancy may arise between the outcome of this approach and following government schemes like the ‘Renewable Heat Incentive’ and/or ‘Code for Sustainable Homes’. People to have benefited from EAA’s 30 year track record include many lay people; other design professionals; e.g., architects, engineers and surveyors plus local and central government officials and policy-makers. Some comments are here.


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The cellar ceiling of an energy-efficient house
under construction in Worcestershire …
complete with canine ‘site manager’!

Picture © M. Coe. 


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Roof ridge detail on the same house.

Picture © M. Coe. 


Krypton-Filled Window






Krypton-filled triple-glazed GRP window
from Canada in a rendered, externally-
insulated wall in Herefordshire, with
stainless steel sill and reveals.

Picture © EAA.



Successful energy-efficient buildings take careful thought at early design stage, especially on aspects which critically affect energy consumption. Major energy savings are usually feasible without any great increase in building cost, so long as energy is addressed at a very early design stage. ‘Integrated design’ is much more successful than ‘sequential design’.


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Example of thermally-efficient construction detailing in a building meeting the Passivhaus Standard.


Source: AECB Passivhaus Standard Design Guidance, 2009.



It then takes careful attention to detail later as construction drawings are prepared and work starts on site. Successful UK progress has usually been a matter of applying known technology, often from abroad on a liberal scale, refining or extending it to reflect UK conditions and integrating it carefully into complete buildings and systems.

Approaches which seem unfamiliar or new to the UK construction industry are sometimes a re-discovery of what is established elsewhere. If we wish to reduce CO2 emissions affordably, should we not be widely following such building practice by now?

Pipe Insulation



Some common ingredients of energy-efficient heating
and mechanical ventilation systems. At least five
features in the pictures differ subtly from ‘normal’,
saving rather large amounts of fuel.


Pictures © Simmonds Mills or EAA. 


radiatorpipe insulation