AECB members’ wit and wisdom, distilled for you

Get inside the heads of your fellow members! AECB has a fascinating resource showcasing the widely ranging – but always passionate and informed – views of members, in the Soapbox column, here on the AECB news pages. The contributions are impossible to summarise, but they share a dedication to technical excellence, and there is also a strong ethical strand.

Subjects to date range from the planning system and the planet, in to the detail of ventilation design and building information modelling, taking in health, social justice and the capitalist system as well as the practical and the policy factors impinging on sustainable building.

Right back at the start of the feature, Angie Kraft bemoaned the combination of ineffective ventilation strategies and lack of attention to indoor finishes, and the risk this poses to occupant health (this theme was picked up here in the AECB features section by Mark Siddall, who offered passionate advocacy for the importance of good ventilation design, and the benefits to air quality that MVHR can deliver). 

Back with Soapbox, building owners’ financial health was defended against the dodgy claims of green tech salesmen by Geoff Stow – a topic that could become even more pressing now that the Green Deal is stirring into life. Danny Lee took up cudgels on behalf of the health of the planet, with a heartfelt plea for an end to the silo mentality among sustainability advocates, the better to respond to the joined-up reality of the environmental crisis.

Back in 2011 Phil Newbold was prefiguring a recent study showing that homebuyers are shunning the ticky-tacky average newbuild home. Phil challenged the planning system to dump its retrograde obsessions with empty green fields and prettiness, and instead drive development which offered liveable homes in truly liveable communities. Neil May complemented this piece with a short and pithy attack on the way that housebuilding is at the mercy of absurd and destructive land price speculation.

Even Passivhaus-standard newbuilds have been challenged, by member Andrew Farr who points out that a Passivhaus dwelling built to the miserably cramped space standards of “affordable” UK housing was liable to overheat, simply through the internal gains of normal family life – while at the other end of the scale, the green credentials of some “Eco-mansions” is questionable, even if they too met Passivhaus standards.

Retrofit is unsurprisingly a theme for many members; with Soapbox’s editor Kate de Selincourt turning contributor to suggest that adding the cost of upgrading the homes of the fuel poor to energy bills would ultimately be self-defeating. David White warned last month that a toxic blend of cost-cutting and uncertain technical standards could be setting the stage for underperforming Green Deal refurbs – and there could even be harm to the health of the people who are meant to be being helped. Guest author Catrin Maby described the critical role of small green construction businesses in making the Green Deal a success – very much a live issue now.

Mischa Hewitt has been at the leading edge of the burgeoning eco-open-homes movement since it began, and he made a convincing case for fellow AECB members to participate, adding to the movement’s powerful blend of user enthusiasm and member expertise, to bring to life the potential of sustainable building for the public.

And some members treated us to elegant expositions of sustainable building practice at its best: Gary Wilburn deftly persuaded a very mainstream commercial client that a high-spec low energy build would pay for itself in no time, and Elrond Burrell talks us through the mysteries of BIM, making a beguiling case for BIM as an aid to meticulous co-ordination — a prerequisite for the real performance which is one of the AECB’s guiding principles.

The current soapbox probably encapsulates as well as any what AECB members seem to believe in above all – putting really effective sustainable building techniques at the service of the communities who need them most.  Marianne Heaslip offers a critique of the well-intentioned but ill-informed movement – celebrity TV champions and all — attempting to “rescue” Liverpool’s condemned and empty Victorian streets, without tackling the inadequacies in the of building fabric which played a part them being abandoned in the first place.

Soapbox appears roughly once per month, and the slot is open to any AECB member who has a convincingly argued message to put across. Suggested topics can be sent in to editor Kate de Selincourt at at any time; she assures AECB members that because we are such a great bunch, everything she’s received has been well worth reading.