Experts call for renovations instead of new builds for sustainable post-pandemic recovery

  • It’s essential to reuse more materials and renovate existing buildings rather than constructing new ones to achieve a low carbon recovery from Covid-19, according to researchers from the University of Sheffield
  • The UK’s current construction practices are unsustainable with the built environment emitting up to 40 per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions and using 60 per cent of materials
  • University of Sheffield researchers develop a new tool that could be used to design and construct buildings more sustainably
  • Tool draws on circular economy principles that aim to eliminate waste and reuse resources to reduce carbon emissions

A loft being converted in a Victorian house

If the UK is to make a low carbon recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, then it’s essential that we reuse more materials and renovate existing buildings rather than constructing new ones, according to researchers from the University of Sheffield.

The call, made by engineers in the University’s Urban Flows Observatory, is in response to the built environment emitting up to 40 per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions and using 60 per cent of materials.

With the UK’s current construction practices being seen as unsustainable in a low carbon recovery, the University of Sheffield researchers have developed a new tool that could be used to design and construct buildings more sustainably.

Developed in collaboration with the infrastructure firm AECOM, the tool draws on circular economy principles, which aim to eliminate waste and reuse resources in order to reduce carbon emissions.

Named Regenerate, the practical design tool can be used by designers in the construction industry and aims to measure and assess how well projects fit into the circular building framework.

The framework consists of a series of Circularity Criteria (CCs), which are split into four categories: design for adaptability, design for deconstruction, circular materials, and resource efficiency. These criteria are then applied to the core building layers: site, structure, skin, services and space.

The framework can be applied to all building types, retrofits and new builds, and also provides practical examples and case study references.

The tool highlights design strategies that should be embedded into a construction project to ensure that the least material is used, over multiple lifecycles.

It aims to encourage the design of adaptable, deconstructable buildings that make use of existing resources and materials. For example, building structures can be designed for future reuse and adaptation, e.g. facades can be stripped away and the fundamental structure retained, or ideally buildings are renovated and repurposed rather than being demolished.

Dr Danielle Densley Tingley from the University’s Department of Civil and Structural Engineering, who led the design of the tool from Sheffield, said: “If the UK is to make a low carbon recovery post-Covid-19, then it’s essential that we implement more sustainable practices in our construction industry. Shifts to circular practices such as increased building retention rather than demolition, or designing new buildings for adaptation would enable building life extension and make positive steps to reduce material consumption and carbon emissions.

“We hope the tool will be widely used in the construction industry so that designers can continually assess just how circular their buildings are, from conception to completion. And whether the building can be sustainably repurposed for future generations.”

The Regenerate tool has been developed by Dr Danielle Densley Tingley, Will Mihkelson and Charles Gillott from the University of Sheffield in collaboration with David Cheshire from AECOM. It has been funded by the University of Sheffield’s EPSRC Impact Accelerator Account.

The University of Sheffield is committed to using its academic expertise to tackle real-world problems on its campus and in the city. The University intends to incorporate the tool into some future building projects and has helped to test it.

Mark Holden, Head of Estates Development at the University of Sheffield, added: “I'm delighted that our project managers have supported colleagues in the testing of Regenerate. It has offered useful insights into one of our planned developments, where we were able to note recommendations and record findings. We now intend to use the tool on all new projects over £2 million.”

Regenerate tool

Aside from the work being undertaken by the Urban Flows Observatory, the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) is also at the forefront of developing new technologies in the construction sector to reduce build time and cost, improve safety and reduce wastage. Technologies being researched include augmented reality, virtual reality, robotics and automation, digital twins and intelligent machining.

The AMRC’s Head of Construction Research, James Illingworth, added: “The research being carried out by the AMRC in robotics, automation and digital systems engineering will help unlock the application of Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) to renovation and retrofit.

“These advanced technologies support reductions in waste by ensuring zero fault forward and by harnessing data-capture and manipulation, some of the challenges with renovation such as complexity, cost and time can be mitigated to enable greater uptake through easier implementation of advanced technology. Using these digital tools means we can have greater confidence in product adaptation and reuse for years to come through an accurate golden thread.”

Additional information

Engineering at the University of Sheffield

The University of Sheffield

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Contact

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Sean Barton
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University of Sheffield
0114 222 9852
s.barton@sheffield.ac.uk