We have a chat with sustainability expert Nigel Griffiths about his role at the Build It Live shows and our new Heating Advice Clinic for 2019
As one of Build It Live’s experts, what’s your specialty?
I’m the show’s sustainability and heating advisor. I was a builder for 15 years, and then a developer for about 10 years. I’ve written a couple of books on the topic, and I now run the Sustainable Buildings Alliance, so I’ve had a whole host of experience of the subject from all angles.
My role involves advising those who come to the shows about their projects and I do a daily seminar on sustainable building options. This covers everything from material selection to water usage, drainage systems and the importance of natural light. I also deal with energy use, looking at both the building’s fabric and heating systems.
Ultimately, the years I spent working as a builder mean there’s a very practical basis to the advice I give. I’m not trying to tell anyone else how to live – I just give personalised advice that’s tailored to meet people’s own priorities as effectively as possible.
Are you going to be telling visitors about any new trends or developments within the sustainability sector? Something I get asked about a lot is what kind of heating system people should put into their self build property, because in most houses, space heating is the largest source of energy consumption.
One thing starting to emerge is hybrid heat pumps. These use electrical power when the heat source is reasonably good, like in the spring and autumn when the air temperature is slightly higher, but in winter when it is very low, they switch to a fossil fuel energy source. They’re obviously more expensive than a standard boiler or heat pump, but they do make best use of the renewable side of the resource, because an air source heat pump isn’t very efficient during the colder months in the middle of winter.
Another thing that’s rising up the agenda is the overuse of plastics and the permanent pollution they cause. We only introduced these materials in the 20th century, but we’re still going to be digging that stuff up in around a thousand years’ time.
So do you think that material usage is going to be a big discussion point at Build It Live?
This is one of the core points of the seminar talks I give. Being truly sustainable is about more than just the energy we consume. I’m equally concerned about the type of materials we use and the way we use them in our buildings. If we get the approach to construction right, we will minimise the environmental impact of new buildings.
Even thinking about the tragedy at Grenfell, it appears to be the oilbased insulation that provided the fuel for the fire to take hold.
So in light of that harrowing event, plus what we’re discovering that we’ve done to our beaches and oceans, I think we really ought to be prioritising a reduction in plastic usage in the building industry. I’m glad people are starting to think more about how to do this and what can be achieved if we start to think differently.
How can self builders create a more sustainable home? Get the orientation and the fabric of the property right. In my seminar, I give an in-depth explanation of the six principles of passive solar design, which are: orientation, glazing, thermal mass in construction, super-insulation, air tightness and solar shading. If you can get all of that right, you create a building that doesn’t need much heating at all.
I get the occasional person coming to see me who says they’re building with straw bales, hemp or something else uncommon. I think using waste products to build with is absolutely ideal – in my mind, this is how to be truly sustainable.
How can homeowners best go about choosing their new home’s heating system?
Whether you’re creating a house from scratch or updating an existing property, the best heating setup will be down to your family’s needs and the nature of the building. For instance, if you have got a superinsulated property then the most cost-effective and sustainable option might be a small gas combi boiler, which will have a far lower environmental impact than installing a ground source heat pump. But if the house is off-grid, then renewable systems may well be a better fit. You also need to think about the type of emitter you plan to install.
New for 2019, we’re launching a Heating Advice Clinic at Build It Live, where experts will be on hand to talk about various solutions and provide insight into what might work best for you – this is another fantastic resource to help you get the most out of your project.
Plus, be sure to attend my seminar for an overview of the key options when it comes to creating and running a sustainable home. We will open the floor up for questions, so if you want clarification on something, that’s a good opportunity.
The rest of the weekend, I’ll be based in the Ask Our Experts area, where you can book a 10-minute slot to chat with me about your heating and sustainability queries one-on-one.
Don’t miss our 2-for-1 ticket offer to Build It Live on page 34!
The first Build It Live show of the year will be heading to the Kent Event Centre on the 8th - 9th of February