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By Dr Mike Pitts, Deputy Challenge Director, Transforming Construction – Innovate UK

Every baker knows you can’t sprinkle yeast onto dough at the end of the process and expect the bread to rise. It needs to be there from the start, fully incorporated. Design thinking is no different to yeast. Design isn’t something you sprinkle on at the end to meet your targets for performance, while doing everything else the same way you always have. Deep design thinking challenges all existing ways to doing things.

Transforming Construction Challenge

In the Transforming Construction challenge we have helped accelerate the shift in the way buildings are constructed. The principle change is to develop and adopt standardised processes that can be automated and digitised to improve efficiency and quality. This has meant working with manufacturing and digital experts to change the design of all stages of construction. Such approaches have already demonstrated significantly lower costs, shorter delivery times, higher productivity and tighter tolerances.


Meeting the challenge of Net Zero for buildings means taking this even further to rethink the design approach. Heating and powering buildings are responsible for around a fifth of emissions in the UK. How can we turn them from part of the problem to part of the solution to Net Zero? Through fundamental design principles being incorporated from the start. We can’t simply slap some solar panels on at the end and hope to meet Net Zero.

Just like ABC

The Active Building Centre has been working to develop the models, data and design principles that developers can use to get a building to Net Zero at the lowest cost. Their expertise is in how you integrate renewable technology at a building level and what combination of technologies will meet Net Zero for the lowest capital outlay.

Net Zero homes have huge advantages for pathways to reducing our emissions. A home generating its own electricity doesn’t add to strain on the grid and can charge our growing number of electric vehicles. Net Zero buildings won’t use gas, being energy efficient and using renewable electricity to heat water and space. What this means is when Net Zero buildings are constructed connections to the gas network are not needed. Nor are expensive upgrades to the electricity grid. When such avoided costs are taken into account the Active Building Centre is starting to show such buildings can be built at potentially lower cost than non-Net Zero buildings.

Lessons from electric vehicles

This is obviously game changing and mirrors the progress in electric vehicles which are already shown to be lower in cost to run over their lifetime (and have far lower emissions) and will soon be cheaper to buy than fossil fuel equivalents. But the main reason electric vehicles are taking off is that they are far more enjoyable to drive. Owners don’t want to go back. Once people start to experience Net Zero buildings the same effect will take hold. Who doesn’t want tiny (or even non-existent) energy bills? Or a healthier, quieter home? Or one that isn’t affected by weather induced power cuts? A Net Zero future really is a better future for us all so long as we are prepared to think deeply about how we do things from the start.