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Saint-Gobain and BRE Victorian terrace project highlights skills challenge

16 Nov 11 Saint-Gobain has called for traditional installation techniques to be significantly improved when refurbishing buildings, following research and testing conducted at the Victorian Terrace, the Building Research Establishment’s (BRE’s) £4.5-million flagship refurbishment project.

Launched in 2010, the BRE Victorian Terrace was designed to generate best practice knowledge of the most effective ways of reducing carbon emissions through the upgrade of existing homes.  Saint-Gobain was heavily involved in the transformation of the building, supplying a range of commercially available products and systems to refurbish part of the original building and show how ‘fabric first’ measures such as insulation and glazing offer a cost effective means of improving energy efficiency.

The property displayed a number of problems associated with housing from the era, including poor thermal performance, solid brick walls, sash windows, dampness and disrepair, demonstrating the challenge of improving the energy efficiency of the UK’s existing housing stock, which includes over six million solid wall properties.  Solutions from a range of companies including Saint-Gobain Isover, British Gypsum, Ecophon, Solaglas and Weber were used throughout to address these issues.

The building has been monitored closely since its restoration, with testing carried out to measure the effectiveness of the solutions used, which have succeeded in upgrading its energy performance rating from F to B.  As well as highlighting the results that can be achieved through retrofit, the project has also played a valuable role in highlighting some of the issues which must be overcome if the UK is to successfully meet the refurbishment challenge.

A large number of thermal images were taken of the building to identify cold bridging spots.  These revealed areas where thermal performance could be improved further with a few simple improvements to the installation techniques and design detailing normally employed by the industry.  Life size pictures of thermal imaging results have been painted on to the walls of the Victorian Terrace, providing a visual representation to highlight the importance of best practice installation. 

Lindsey Walker, strategic marketing leader for Saint-Gobain (UK & Ireland), said: “As well as demonstrating the effectiveness of fabric first solutions in a solid wall refurbishment scenario, the Victorian Terrace has highlighted areas where performance could be enhanced further by following best practice installation guidelines. 

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“The products and systems specified will be used within the early stages of the Green Deal.  It is therefore vital that the industry gets to grips with the techniques used to help deliver optimum efficiency to address the challenge of improving the efficiency of the existing housing stock.

“Overcoming the skills challenge posed by refurbishment is essential if the UK is to meet carbon emission reduction targets.  This is something Saint-Gobain is helping the industry to achieve through our network of Technical Academies, launched earlier this year.  The latest phase of our activity at the BRE Victorian Terrace supports this, providing the industry witha practical learning tool to reinforce the importance of following recommended guidelines when installing fabric first products and systems.”

John O’Brien, principal consultant at BRE, adds: “The Victorian Terrace project has given us a substantial amount of knowledge about how to address the difficulties of dealing with hard to treat properties.  We have demonstrated that the materials are available now to embark on this challenging programme, but also that we need to promote a best practice understanding of the elimination of cold bridging and how the different fabric improvements interface with each other.”

In the case of the Victorian Terrace the building’s thermal performance could be improved further with a few simple improvements to the installation techniques and design detailing normally employed by the industry.  Examples include ensuring that insulation materials are fitted without air gaps; applying mastic to the underside of window frames to stop air tracking behind dry-lining and drawing heat from the room; preventing air convection by using a complete ribbon of adhesive instead of a dot and dab technique when securing laminates to the wall and only using as many insulation fixings as needed to reduce thermal bridging.

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