The Fabric First Approach
What is a Fabric First Approach?
The ‘fabric first’ approach prioritises the energy efficiency of a property right from conception, at the start of the design and development process, as opposed to considering it as an afterthought or ‘add-on’ to ensure properties meet building requirements. Energy efficiency is considered at every stage with a fabric first approach, primarily when designing a building and selecting materials for the core makeup of a property like frames, walls, doors, and windows.
Building Regulations now have a strong focus on the energy performance of new homes. Developers and self-builders have to comply with a higher level of energy efficiency requirements to do their bit for the wider environmental problem and reduce their properties’ carbon footprints.
Contrary to building a property and installing energy-efficient compliances and renewable energy sources as a second thought, fabric first properties are efficient right from conception to completion. The materials used minimise thermal bridging and maximise important aspects like airtightness, ventilation and solar fain resulting in an efficient property outright, without the need for later considerations like low carbon energy sources.
Not only are fabric first houses far more cost-effective to build and run, but there are also many environmental benefits for the end-user when using this approach. Despite what many developers and builders may assume, the fabric first approach doesn’t require a complete upturn of the usual methods and materials used – it can be achievable with small yet powerful adaptations.
All Roofspace property solutions allow housebuilders, developers and housing planners to adopt the fabric first approach. Our i-Houses use large format aircrete blocks along with timber engineered floors and roofs which are seamlessly integrated into existing methodologies with minimal disruption to existing construction methods.
Why should you use a fabric first approach?
There are several reasons why buildings are designed and constructed using a fabric first approach.
Fabric first properties essentially have energy-efficiency built-in to the building’s bones, so don’t have to rely on renewable sources of energy being installed. Low carbon energy sources like biomass boilers or heat pumps can be complex to operate, costly, loud and an overall inconvenience for end-users residing in a building. Fabric first buildings are innately sustainable due to the materials and components, running efficiently without needing these extras or contributions from those living in the property.
The fabric first approach to developing and building a home is hugely cost-effective for property developers and self-builders long term. Rather than investing in low carbon energy sources, a fabric’s energy performance is ingrained in its makeup and not in the compliance installed post-build. By removing the need for complex energy sources, there are no ongoing maintenance costs involved.
Energy technology is always advancing and developing. Failing to use a fabric first approach also means your energy source is likely to need replacing in the near future to ensure your building continues to meet energy performance requirements, resulting in long term costs.
How can the fabric first approach be applied?
The fabric first approach should be incorporated at the design stage of a new build, taking into account each element’s energy performance to enable a building to be as efficient as possible when the components come together in construction. There are several vital aspects builders and developers must consider when using the fabric first approach effectively.
Aside from affecting the quality of the building for the end-user, draughts can also hugely reduce a building’s energy performance. Fabric first buildings should aim to be as airtight as possible, from the materials used to the practises used when elements like walls, windows and doors are constructed. By minimising the amount of air that can escape, fabric first homes will need to use far less energy for heating or cooling.
Ensuring a property is airtight and eliminating draughts is also about providing plenty of ventilation. A property built with the fabric first approach will have consistent temperatures across rooms and floors, reducing the need for home heating and showcasing the benefit of prioritising efficiency throughout.
Minimal heat loss
Similarly to the prioritisation of a building’s airtightness, fabric first ensures that the materials used are designed to offer minimal heat loss. The U-value performances of materials used for building components like frames, doors, windows, walls and roofs are analysed to assure that they are as insulating as possible and reduce thermal bridging instances from occurring.
Thermal bridging occurs in any building area where heat can pass from the inside to the outside of a property and is most common at joints like walls and roofs. Instead of just using a traditional approach and installing insulation after construction to reduce heat loss, fabric first considers the U-value of every material used in a build to eliminate heat loss.
Maximum solar gain
Another critical aspect developers and builders must consider when implementing the fabric first approach is solar gain. Working hand in hand with minimising heat loss, making sure a property has high-performing windows and doors will ensure the property can gain as much heat energy from natural sources as possible.
In conjunction with ensuring the windows and doors chosen at the design stage are high-performance, you must also consider where they’re placed in the property. For example, South-facing walls are ideal for placing a higher volume of windows to absorb heat energy from the sun, whereas north-facing windows are best kept to a minimum to avoid heat loss.
Should you use a fabric first approach?
Rather than relying on investing in low carbon energy sources to ensure your newbuilds are compliant with current Building Regulations, it’s far more cost-effective and sustainable to consider your materials and construct properties that are efficient in their architecture.
The approach can be adopted by self-builders, property developers, housing planners, associates and architects to ensure energy performance is inherent and not a reconsideration.
How does Roofspace use the fabric first approach?
At Roofspace, the fabric first approach is ingrained in all the products and services we offer. Our floors and roof solutions are all timber-engineered, a material with a low U-value that hugely minimises the heat loss of a property and ensures all our properties meet energy performance regulations.
Our commercial and technical teams actively engage with each client at the early stages of a project, utilising our product, manufacturing, installation and building standards knowledge to advise the client on the use of our systems and its integration within their project outline. With the resources of the Saint-Gobain group behind us, together with in-house SAP Engineers, we are able to come up with a range of solutions to meet and exceed regulations and complement other ‘fabric first’ solutions the client wishes to utilise.
In addition, as a ‘system provider’, we are able to bring together and work alongside other key suppliers of products such as Dormers, Rooflights and Fire Protection to ensure the system is airtight and installed correctly. Our ‘off-site manufacturing’ philosophy means that every roof or house system is made in factory conditions under our strict quality control standards, ensuring superb product quality and consistency. We then undertake the installation of our products on-site, again to quality controlled standards to maintain consistency and compliance.
Roofspace is also actively aware of new Regulation updates to ensure that our systems are future proof and can both meet and exceed existing and forthcoming requirements.
An example of current work we are doing is in our development of system offerings to meet Part L requirements, which will utilise the use of both better-performing insulation and plasterboard alongside the integration of PV panels within our roofs, factory fitted to ensure correct detailing and speed of installation.
We aim to enable builders and developers to work smart at every stage of a project, which is why our solutions are designed to be as time and cost-effective as possible, inclusive of making sure our properties have a high energy performance. Get in touch with the team to enquire about our building solutions or to find out more about how we adopt the fabric first approach.
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