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Guide to Sustaining Existing Tower Blocks in the UK

Prashant Kapoor, Price & Myers Sustainability Catherine Harrington, Architype, Chris Church & Toby Gale, Sustainable Tower Blocks Initiative Pixie Tan, Franklin Andrews Cost Consultants Anis Abou-Zaki, Battle McCarthy Abstract High-rise blocks are currently the centre of much debate and often the solution has been to demolish them. But in the last few years there has been growing recognition of the value of refurbishment - in terms of whole cost economic efficiency, environmental impact, and the need to provide homes. Overarching concerns now include the need to accommodate rising numbers of households, commitments to urban renewal and environmental targets, and the governments Sustainable Communities Plan and Decent Homes Standard. In this context, we have recently completed a research project for the Department of Trade and Industry to pull together and promote sustainable solutions to high-rise refurbishment. The main output is a good practice guide and checklist which provides advice for building owners and developers on how refurbishment can be a sustainable choice socially, economically and environmentally. First of all the project re-evaluates existing practice in terms of the designs and strategies for refurbishment. Analysis of case studies and focus groups with landlords, residents, and building designers is used to develop the design guide. Issues covered include, use of improving building defects and thermal comfort, security; energy efficiency and renewable energy; materials for refurbishment and resident involvement. The project also looks at the costs of sustainable refurbishment, such that clients and developers can appreciate that sustainable towers are an affordable proposition. www.sustainingtowers.org

Introduction Residential tower blocks in the UK have thrown up plenty of social, environmental and economic issues since the 1970s. High-rise apartment blocks are currently the centre of much debate and often the solution has been to demolish them. But in the last few years there has been growing recognition of the value of refurbishment - in terms of whole cost economic efficiency, environmental impact, and the need to provide homes. Overarching concerns now include the need to accommodate rising numbers of households, commitments to urban renewal and environmental targets, and the governments Sustainable Communities Plan and Decent Homes Standard. Rationale for sustainable tower blocks refurbishment: Maintain current housing stock in urban and suburban areas Retain peoples homes, while developing improved housing conditions Retain existing communities Refurbish buildings and their surroundings to improve the streetscape and the skyline, and integrate towers as existing local landmarks Fulfil the governments objectives of urban regeneration Maintain urban density at a time when resident numbers in inner city areas are decreasing Avoid the environmental load of re-building homes 40,000,000 tonnes of building materials make up the existing tower blocks in London alone Refurbish tower blocks using building materials that are more environmentally friendly, reducing impact on the globes resources Provide healthier homes for residents through the selection of non-toxic materials and adopting improved heating and ventilation strategies Meet rising demand for housing in inner city areas in a cost effective way - consider lifecycle costings to provide solutions that reduce investment in the long term The DTI sponsored website SUSTAINING TOWERS [www.sustainingtowers.org] provides options for sustainable refurbishment with the aim to facilitate the regeneration of the 3000+ residential high-rise blocks in the UK. The Design Guide The Design Guide found on the website is an interactive tool that you can use to obtain sustainable refurbishment solutions tailored to the particular issues of a specific tower block. The design guide also acts as a checklist for you to review as an outline of typical issues that arise with tower blocks. The Design Guide offers approximate costs for sustainable strategies, so that you can appreciate the economic benefits and compare the investment cost of varying solutions. A summary of the key solutions is as follows: Providing amenities Provision of social amenities in or around the tower block can be critical to its success. This is particularly relevant in tower blocks with elderly residents. As well as

being a place for residents to drop in for a chat, this is used as a venue for some of the sheltered services in the block such as some health-related consultations. Improving security Safety is a top priority for any community. Improved security measures can deter crime and vandalism, and therefore reduce maintenance costs. The residents perception of security is all-important too; you cant create communities if everyone feels unsafe: Effective solutions include a concierge-style system, CCTV, access control, and vandal resistant doors Considered external landscaping can also help create a less favourable environment for crime

Involving residents Creating a successful tower block very much depends on a careful allocation strategy. There is a balance to be achieved between the high-rise being a representative microcosm of the general population, and the need to protect the more vulnerable residents: It may be desirable to allocate families with children only to the lower floors, which lessens the time spent in the lift, and ensures proximity to the outdoor facilities Some blocks are now only for older residents with the current predictions of an ageing population, this will become increasingly relevant

Creating a conducive allocation policy The key to a successful block is to ensure that all those in it are happy to be living there. There are a number of ways forward. It is now quite common to only allocate families with children to the lowest floors (perhaps the first to the fourth or in some case to the tenth). This reduces the time they spend in lifts etc. Other blocks simply do not take families with children; if children are born then arrangements are made for reallocation. Some blocks are now only for older residents. Given that housing predictions suggest a big increase in the number of households of older people this may be a good way forward. Improving external skin One of the best ways to enrich the image of the block is of course to improve the external faade. This also enhances the thermal performance of the building, reducing running costs: Provide solar shading to reduce overheating, whilst increasing the size of openings to maximise solar gain Enclose balconies to reduce heat loss and antisocial noise and improve the pedestrian environment with wind skirting

Enhancing quality of common areas Public areas in tower blocks typically have a bad reputation and an unwelcoming atmosphere. Improving the lobby area can drastically re-invent the overall image of the block: Specify materials and fittings that are easy to clean, maintain, and replace Identify and remove barriers to access for people with disabilities, parents with children and the elderly Consider re-planning or extending to create a more welcoming and accessible Changing layouts and finishes Even basic modifications can greatly improve access for people with disabilities. Lower floors are often unpopular for living spaces; potentially these could be converted into communal or commercial areas, enhancing the sense of community Look at new ways of combining or dividing flats across the floor plan, or even between floors Think environmentally improve solar orientation, provide pleasurable spaces such as balconies and gardens Select finishes with care and attention to durability, acoustics, thermal mass, and environmental impact Improving energy efficiency Supply of gas to individual flats for heating is not recommended, as the potential impact of a small fault can be colossal in a tower block. Centralised boilers with hot water supplied to each flat is ideal in tower blocks with elderly tenants, as they tend to use the flat during the day and require higher temperatures for comfort. Biomass [e.g., Wood chip] heating, Combined heating and power [CHP] and solar water heating must be considered. Lighting is a major component of electrical energy use in tower blocks, as the lights in communal areas remain switched on through out the night. Energy efficient electrical fitting and efficient white goods can help save the tenants and landlords 20-30% on the electricity bill. Integrating renewable energy Tower blocks present a great opportunity to generate renewable energy: Integrate photovoltaic panels on the roof and south faade to generate electricity Install wind turbines on the roof exploiting the higher winds, and creating a fantastic visual impact Use solar collectors to generate hot water for pre-heating the water in centralised boilers Reducing water use Each resident consumes approximately 50m3 of water every year. Efficient fitting including, low flush WCs and spray taps along with rain and grey water recycling systems can save the tenants and landlords more than 50% on the water bill. Reducing waste generated Each person in the UK generates approximately half a tonne [550kg] of household waste. Of which only 20% of the gets recycled every year. A sustainable waste

management strategy needs to be developed for each tower block, which considers sorting, recycling and composting of waste. Improving lifts The performance of the tower block lifts has a significant impact on the quality and accessibility of the high-rise environment. Refurbish the existing lift cars with improved controls and lighting and a regular cleaning programme Look at radical solutions where the lift cars are prohibitively small: installing larger lifts; enlarging or creating new lift shafts; even installing new lifts externally