Practical Issues – Buildings

Trelander & St Clements Community Hall

Siting Issues

 The character and siting of a community building can affect the suitability for renewable technology installations.

The size and orientation of the roof will affect whether photovoltaic or solar thermal panels can be accommodated.  Shading from trees or nearby buildings can reduce the efficiency of photovoltaics.  Solar thermal systems require space to house the water storage tank and pipe-work to connect the panels to the tank.  Building access could affect delivery of heating fuel for biomass boilers.  On the plus side any land attached to the building could accommodate a ground source heat pump or even a wind turbine.

Google Earth  can be useful tool for initially assessing issues like roof size, shape, orientation and shading and land elevation for wind-turbine siting.

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Building Construction

The age and construction of the building will affect the types of insulation that can be applied, for example cavity wall or solid wall insulation.

A porch with external doors will help to reduce heat-loss.  Metal window and doorframes may cause heat loss through thermal bridging.  The construction of the roof will also influence what kinds of roof insulation can be installed.

The construction of a community building will affect thermal efficiency and suitability for renewables technologies.  The roof will need to be strong enough to support the weight of solar photovoltaic or solar thermal panels.

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Building use and  energy usage patterns

Community buildings are used for a variety of activities.  This pattern of use will affect demand for heating, lighting and hot water and this will influence which energy options are most suitable and cost-effective.

For example solar powered systems such as photovoltaics may not be practical in a building that is mainly used in the evenings.  Similarly there is no point installing a solar thermal hot water system if hot water rarely gets used.   It is worthwhile taking the time to document who uses your building, when and for what purpose as well as gathering their views on how heating and lighting might be improved.  Matching suitable technologies to needs of the building will maximise benefits and minimise costs.

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Wider benefits of improved insulation and heating

The benefits of upgrading the insulation and heating in a community building can extend beyond simply cutting bills.  A well insulated and cosy community building will have far more appeal for users and this may result in increased usage helping the building to pay for itself and contributing to a more vibrant and active community hub. As the energy hierarchy explains, communities should always reduce demand and become as efficient as possible before considering renewables.


Planning issues

It is important to contact the local planning department as early as possible if you are considering making changes to a community building. There is a good chance that planning permission or building control approval may be required.

Unlike domestic properties, photovoltaic panels are not automatically ‘permitted developments’ for community buildings.  Heat pumps and solar thermal systems may also need planning permission.  Restrictions within conservation areas, listed status and land designations such as ‘Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ (AONB) could affect your plans.  Formal drawings of the building will usually be needed as part of a planning application and the cost of preparing them should be factored into your budget.  You can find out more about planning on the Cornwall Council website here and through the Planning Portal.

Community Energy Plus provide advice on guidance for planning applications. Contact us to find out more about this service.

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Asbestos surveys

Upgrading a community building may trigger the need for an asbestos survey. Exposure to asbestos is linked to several harmful and even potentially fatal diseases, so it’s important to ensure your community is safe.  Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provide guidance on asbestos in public buildings and have produced a useful health and safety checklist for community buildings here.


Structural surveys

A structural survey may be advisable if roof-mounted systems are being considered or other technologies such as an air-source heat-pump are to be attached to the building fabric.  MCS accredited installers should be able to advise on the need for a structural survey.  Alternatively you can search for a local surveyor on the RICS website.


Existing electrical supply

Most community buildings will have an existing electricity supply.  This may be ‘single phase’ or ‘three phase’.   If a generation technology such as photovoltaic panels is to be installed you will need to establish if the existing connection is sufficient for the proposed system.

The local distribution network operator (DNO) will need to approve installations beyond a certain size and your connection may require upgrading.  Western Power Distribution is the DNO in Cornwall and the South West and can provide advice on connecting new installations to the network.

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Feasibility studies

A feasibility study is a tool to answer the key questions about the practical, legal and financial viability of your project  and should include the issues outlined throughout this section.

The size and complexity of the study will depend on the nature of the project but it should be a realistic and measured assessment.  Your project team may be able to undertake a feasibility study themselves and a suitably qualified installer should be able to provide practical advice on many of these issues at stake.  Community Energy Plus can provide support with your with your feasibility study.   Contact us to find out more about this service.

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