Sustainable building in the education sector

Known as COP26 – The 26th ‘Conference of the Parties’, the UN Climate Change Conference takes place in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November 2021 and involves almost every country in the world.

The UK is working hard towards tackling climate change. The original Climate Change Act, passed in 2008, committed the UK to an 80% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. This was amended in 2019 and commits the UK to ‘net zero’ by 2050.

The Building Energy Efficiency Survey carried out over 2014-2015 identified the education sector as one of the highest users of energy. The report issued in 2016 noted that the education sector’s total energy consumption was 15,020 GWh. The report, through modelling, notes the total abatement potential in the education sector was 6,760 GWh of total energy consumption. This reflects a potential 45% reduction in consumption. Who reading this article wouldn’t want to reduce their energy costs by 45%?

Over the last couple of decades there has been a great deal of growth in new methods of building construction. These incorporate renewable materials, enhanced insulation and light weight construction that requires less foundations work. These are important to many schools as the on-site disruption is minimised as much of the construction takes place off-site and assembly time on-site is reduced.

There is much support for modern methods of construction (MMC) because of the energy efficiency provided. There are however some drawbacks. The Fire Sector Federation submission to the Select Committee considering modern methods of construction, noted that ‘Accepting that properly used MMC may offer considerable economic and social benefits, there is a deep concern that increasing the rate of its use would also lead to the possibility of a pro rata increase in the number of fires in MMC buildings’. They go on to note that ‘Such forms of construction open the potential for unseen and uncontrolled rapid-fire spread, through cavities and beyond designated fire compartments.’

Writing after the Fire Protection Association summit 2020, John Melbourne, Principal Risk Management Surveyor for Ecclesiastical Insurance noted ‘Many of the materials used in MMC such as timber framing and sheathing boards, insulation and cladding materials are combustible, and whilst their selection may meet the current Building Regulations which are focused primarily on life safety, they may not necessarily meet insurers’ requirements, who as well as having regard for life safety are also concerned about a buildings resilience to the effects of fire’.

Insurers are supportive of the drive towards zero carbon buildings, recognising the social and economic benefits of these. But all insurers will largely take the same stance when considering combustibility. The more combustible a building is, the higher the rates will be to get insurance cover. In certain circumstances cover could be restricted or subject to higher excesses or coinsurance clauses, or at worst, no cover offered at all.

It is important when embarking on a new building project that you engage with your insurance broker at an early stage. They will be able to liaise with the insurers, who inevitably will require far more information on materials and controls than they ever did with standard construction buildings.

Insurers and brokers can help shape the design and direct you towards alternative materials delivering the same efficiencies albeit possibly slightly more expensive. Your broker will help to ensure there are no foreseeable insurance issues now or further into the future. It’s important to think about the long term and not just seek the short-term efficiencies that come with cheaper construction costs.

Sources and additional reading

Ecclesiastical: Modern methods of construction – Fire Protection Association summit 2020

Building green schools

Building Energy Efficiency Survey (BEES)

Carbon Trust – Overview of the Schools sector

Fire sector federation


Mark Rose, Account Executive at Hayes Parsons Insurance Brokers

0117 930 1657 | [email protected]