The jury may still be out regarding exactly what the Government means by a 'Zero Carbon Home', but thankfully the construction industry does enjoy some sort of consensus on the definition of sustainability.
Namely, that by employing products and practices which are sustainable, we are not jeopardising the potential for future generations, to go on enjoying similar benefits.
The grey areas start to emerge as you debate which products, systems or strategies can actually be considered to achieve this ideal. Though Polypipe Building Products believes that a growing number of specifiers are coming to appreciate the green benefits of its predominantly grey coloured plumbing, heating and drainage products; as in a variety of ways they make important contributions to the environmental agenda.
For those who are not already familiar with the Code for Sustainable Homes, it is important to point out that the guidance on creating greener dwellings is not only being phased in over a period of just a few years, but it will require virtually every aspect of the domestic environment to be addressed to reach the higher levels.
For this reason, Polypipe Building Products has not only been working to enhance the performance of its portfolio, but has also made considerable effort to explain the different product's potential to provide points under the various categories of the code. As part of this the post of Product Manager for Sustainability was created to offer specifiers guidance on how they can gain the greatest benefits, without radically changing the way they design properties, or exceeding clients' budget constraints.
Brian Stannett was appointed from within Polypipe to fill this vital role and has also been involved with the Housing Forum. He comments:
'We are seeing a lot more interest being shown of late in a number of areas - especially the control of surface water or storm water management, and also rainwater harvesting. Sales of these ranges have actually been increasing, despite the downturn in housebuilding, while our underfloor heating systems are also being used more frequently as a means of 'enabling' or optimising the performance of ground source and air source heat pumps as well as high efficiency condensing boilers.'
Implementing sustainable drainage systems or SUDs is of course a planning requirement as well as a feature of the Code for Sustainable Homes, and Polypipe facilitates the all important area of attenuation with its well proven Polystorm product. The high capacity grey cells being stacked together to create holding tanks, while they are also able to withstand heavy vehicle loads if they need to be located beneath roads or parking areas. An alternative version in black, Polystorm Light, has a significant recycled content, but cannot carry traffic.
Again in the familiar grey livery, the manufacturer's rainwater harvesting system, Ecovat is able to drastically reduce a dwelling's dependence on mains water; greatly supplementing the benefits of installing low volume flushing toilets and aeration devices in taps. As Brian Stannett observes: 'Designers have realised there is only so much air you can put through the taps and then you have to start looking at ways of replacing the mains water supply you are using for non-potable applications. And unlike grey water recycling, rainwater harvesting can be used for running the washing machine or supplying the outside tap, not just toilet flushing.
'Correctly sized and installed, it is actually possible for Ecovat Home to collect and recycle sufficient rainwater to cut an average household's consumption of mains water by as much as 50per cent.'
Interestingly, assessors looking at new properties in relation to the Code for Sustainable Homes are now able to take rainwater harvesting systems into account with respect to the contribution they make to attenuating rainfall. In other words the reservoir can be viewed as a temporary store, acting to reduce immediate discharge into the stormwater drainage system.
The other very positive aspect to supplementing or replacing potable supply which Polypipe is keen to point out to specifiers relates to water's enormous energy footprint. The power consumed in treating and distributing mains water - coupled with continuing losses from the UK's inadequately maintained pipework infrastructure - actually makes this essential of life a prime cause of pollution.
It is clear then that paying attention to the way we consume and dispose of or drain away water can make a significant contribution to preserving resources, cutting carbon emissions and mitigating against future flooding episodes. And ensuring we get the maximum efficiency from the fossil fuels we use to heat our homes, by employing underfloor heating systems, will similarly benefit the environment.
In respect of achieving such ambitions not only has Polypipe Building Products developed a range able to assist specifiers meet current and future targets on sustainability, but the company's entire operation from production through to final distribution is the subject of continuing effort to cut waste and improve performance.