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Section 1 Forms of Construction

Section 2 Defects

Section 3 Refurbishment Techniques

Section 4 Sustainable Products and Materials 


Description:  This unit introduces a range of sustainable methods of refurbishment for a variety of forms of construction.

Author:  Gates MacBain Associates

Section 1  Forms of Construction

Aims and Objectives

At the end of this section you should be able to:
  • Outline the consideration relating to the different forms of construction.

Before we look at the ways of refurbishing building with a view to enhance sustainability we need to look at the different forms of construction.  These forms can fall into three categories: 
  • Traditional
  • Contemporary
  • Innovative
Traditional This is the types of building and the form of construction that is common within the society of the time and at that geographical location. The design, construction materials and techniques are influenced by the geographical location, which are a major influence due to the availability of materials: While the materials used will dictate the design and construction methods.  In order to gain an insight into this it is worth looking at the history of buildings to gain an understanding of some of the buildings which you could come across.  A good site to visit for a general introduction is the Woodlands Page on Houses. 

Any work of refurbishment on traditional housing must consider that traditional buildings perform very differently to contemporary buildings so it is important to understand the different requirements in refurbishing traditional houses to contemporary with regard to the conservation of energy. A good source of information and guidance on this is available from the English Heritage document “Energy conservation in traditional buildings” though you should also visit “Energy efficiency and traditional buildings” which can be found at the link below.  


The development of contemporary construction is moving toward ever better environmental performance.  The introduction of new codes and legislation (you will learn about these in unit 4 of this module) and amendments to the Building Regulations is raising the standards required and these must be up-dated in any refurbishment, consequently it is essential to be aware of the current requirements to the Building Regulations and the easiest way of maintaining currency is to check the Governments website for them, which is shown below.The construction techniques are looked at in Construction Technology Modules on this site and you should ensure that you understand these techniques.   


It is now accepted that the design of new and innovative buildings will play a major part in the reduction of energy use and work is being carried out into this.  A source of information relating to this can be found at the Centre for Sustainable Design which also includes a number of video briefings. 

As sustainability exerts an increasing influence over design and construction, new types of construction are being introduced; such approaches that appear radical at present will possibly begin to permeate mainstream practice. In fact there is evidence that this is starting to happen already. The Sustainable Build website is a source of information relating to some of the construction methods which are now being developed.    

Low Impact 

Low impact construction looks at the way buildings are constructed using wholly natural materials.  Such methods are currently not commonly used though great interest and research is being carried out and will possibly have a greater influence on construction for rural areas in the future.  

Examples of these methods can be found in Sustainable Construction book listed below and include such methods as construction using: 
  • Timber
  • Earth
  • Straw
The websites and the books listed below will provide you with a good introduction to this area of study.



  • Halliday, S, (2008) Sustainable Construction, Butterworth-Heineman, Oxford.
  • Chudley, R & Greeno, R, (2001) Building Construction Handbook, Butterworth Heinemann, Oxford.

Self-Assessment Task

  • Briefly describe the forms of construction used in houses.

Section 2  Defects

Aims and Objectives

At the end of this section you should be able to:
  • List the causes of defects in a building

A defect is an imperfection, deficiency or fault in a component or element of a building which will adversely affect its functional performance or appearance. This can be due to a fault at the design or construction stage or can develop over time.  The causes of defects can be classed as:  
  • Inadequate brief.  The brief given by the client to the designer may  not give sufficient detail on the requirement of the building. This may result in the wrong materials or an inferior component being used.
  • Incorrect design.  This may occur due to  a number of reason:
    • poor communication  - between members of the design and construction teams.
    • Lack of knowledge on building use - the designer may specify materials which do not take into account the use of the building.
    • Incorrect materials for the climatic conditions which are prevalent in the building.
    • unfamiliarity with the properties of the materials used.
    • use of new materials or forms of construction.
  • Poor construction practice. This can result from poor workmanship or due to the difficulty in maintaining high quality standards on a building site. Items may be damaged in transit, storage, or in incorporating them into the building.
  • Users activities.  Defects may occur if the user is not aware of how they should be treated. This can result in accidental damage or deterioration. Defects can also occur due to deliberate actions. Problems can also occur due, ignorance or social or financial circumstance as in the case of defects due to condensation.
  • Maintenance. The lack of maintenance or incorrect remedial action can have a detrimental effect on the building or its elements. Lack of care during maintenance can also cause problems, for example the failure to use a roof ladder correctly may result in additional tiles being cracked when carrying out maintenance on a roof.
It is important to have a thorough understanding of construction technology and to understand how materials behave under certain conditions as defects will occur if these are not allowed for. All repairs, maintenance and refurbishment must take into account the use that the building is for this will influence the types of materials to be use.      

It is essential that a thorough understanding is gained on the factors that affect the deterioration of materials and the methods of rectifying these defects.  You should visit the websites in order to gain an insight into some of the problem areas and how these can be rectified.


Self-Assessment Task

  • Briefly outline the causes of defects in buildings.

Section 3  Refurbishment Techniques

Aims and Objectives

At the end of this section you should be able to:
  • Discuss the considerations regarding the refurbishment of buildings.

Sustainable refurbishment can avoid the wholesale waste of resources that comes about when older buildings (particularly housing) is cleared to make way for new. It also preserves the character of our towns and cities, making them interesting places in which to live. In addition it can work out cheaper than demolishing and replacement. 

There are two main factors to be considered in the refurbishment of buildings: 
  • The building meets the requirements laid down with regard to conservation and the current Building Regulations.
  • The minimisation of disturbance or damage to the building fabric.

In the case of traditional buildings any work carried out must be sympathetic with regard to the design and the materials used. Certainly one of the most important choices is that of materials. 

You should visit the Rethinking Refurbishment website below in order to gain an insight into refurbishment. 


Self-Assessment Task

  • State the advantages of refurbishing buildings over replacing them.

Section 4  Sustainable Products and Materials

Aims and Objectives

At the end of this section you should be able to:
  • Explain the benefits of using sustainable materials or products.
  • Outline the factors which will relate to the criteria for green products.

The use of sustainable or green building materials and products represents an important strategy in the design of a building. 

Green building materials offer specific benefits to the building owner and building occupants which includes:
  • Reduced maintenance/replacement costs over the life of the building.
  • Energy conservation.
  • Improved occupant health and productivity.
  • Lower costs associated with changing space configurations.
  • Greater design flexibility. 
Building and construction activities worldwide consume 3 billion tons of raw materials each year or 40 percent of total global use. Using green building materials and products promotes conservation of dwindling nonrenewable resources internationally. In addition, integrating green building materials into building projects can help reduce the environmental impacts associated with the extraction, transport, processing, fabrication, installation, reuse, recycling, and disposal of these building industry source materials.  

Green building materials are composed of renewable resources. Green materials are environmentally responsible because impacts are considered over the life of the product Depending upon project-specific goals, an assessment of green materials may involve an evaluation of one or more of the criteria listed below. 

Selection Criteria of Materials and Products  

The following factors have relevance when selecting materials or products:  

Resource Efficiency 

These should: 
  • Have Recycled Content
  • Be Natural, plentiful or renewable
  • Use a Resource efficient manufacturing process
  • Be Locally available
  • Be Salvaged, refurbished, or remanufactured
  • Be Reusable or recyclable
  • Be Recycled or recyclable product packaging
  • Be Durable
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)
  • Low or non-toxic
Systems or equipment
  • Low- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) assembly
  • Moisture resistant
  • Healthfully maintained
  • Minimal chemical emissions
Other factors to consider are: 
  • Efficiency
  • Conservation
  • Affordability
Information on each of the above points can be obtained by visiting the Green Building Materials & products website below.  

A good way of keeping abreast of developments relating to all aspects of sustainability is to read magazines such as the ABC&D Magazine, which can be accessed online by visiting their website listed below.  


Self-Assessment Task

  • Outline the factors which have relevance when selecting materials or products.

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