In anticipation of the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) 2021, the UK government has announced its latest steps to tackle emissions and climate change – this time, by targeting a common source of carbon emission and landfill pollutant, halogen bulbs. The announcement surprises no one who is familiar with UK’s current trajectory of climate change initiatives. This was preceded by similar bans of other inefficient lightbulbs, including incandescent (e.g., argon) bulbs back in 2009 as part of an EU-wide initiative. Looking ahead, the government is also proposing the ban of fluorescent lights from September 2023 onwards, highlighting a lesson in designing adaptable buildings.

So what lessons can we learn from the phasing out of halogen lights. At ADW Developments, we believe there is a strong message that construction projects  (whether these are new build or refurbishments or fitouts) – should design with adaptability and disassembly in mind. Employing the thinking from credits within BREEAM such as Wst 06 ‘Design for disassembly and adaptability’ will make it far simpler and cheaper to adopt the technologies of tomorrow. Case in point, statistics from the UK government show that light fixtures with fixed bulbs (i.e., Halogenic solutions, or in the future, fixed fluorescent lights) that cannot be replaced are sent into landfill – these non-adaptive fixtures (including any other bespoke technology embedded into them such as non-standard connectors and sizes) account for over 100,000 (over 6.6% of the total) tonnes of electrical waste generated every year.

On the ground, any building (including households) that use these old, fixed lighting solutions are expected to spend millions of pounds on replacements. The new solution, LED bulbs, outperform halogen bulbs in nearly every performance facet – LEDs cost just as much as halogen bulbs, last 5 times longer, and use up to 80% less power. Even the Colour Rendering Index (a measure of how well an artificial light shows the colour of objects that it hits), which has long been a domain of halogen bulbs with perfect 90+ scores, is falling under threat of newer and advanced LED lights (which are similarly scoring 90+).

This has implications for the triple-bottom line of the scheme: LED bulbs make sense financially (last longer), environmentally (consume less power, generate less waste), and socially (increase the thermal and visual comfort of occupants). But is the case of LED / halogen bulbs an isolated example? Far from it. We believe that this case represents a strong lesson that can apply to many other facets of construction work and building services. From the scheme’s superstructure to its various services and components, it is possible to implement BREEAM methodologies such as Mat 01Life cycle assessment’, Man 02Life cycle costing’, and Wst 06Design for disassembly and adaptability’ to identify design solutions (from a range of alternatives) that would be most consistent with the scheme’s triple bottom line, which are all powerful steps in designing adaptable buildings

A BREEAM Life Cycle Assessment (Mat 01) can be applied to appraise the whole-life emissions and global warming potential (GWP) of components and services. This combines with the Life Cycle Cost (Man 02) assessment that appraises the whole-life costing of the scheme (or components), including the (i) initial investment costs, (ii) replacement costs, (iii) maintenance costs, and (iv) operating costs. The combination of these two services allows scheme to identify alternative solutions (i.e., light bulbs) that provide the best through-life financial and environmental value. Adding to the importance of life cycle costing, the UK government announced in March 2021 its plans to legislate against ‘premature obsolescence’ of electrical appliances, forcing OEMs to manufacture spare parts and grant ‘right to repair’ for electrical appliances. Given this change, electrical appliances will be expected to have a longer service life in exchange for through-life repair costs, making it important to select the right option.

Forward-thinking schemes (from the past decade) that had conducted LCA/LCC appraisals would already have identified the future operating / environmental / replacement costs of halogen bulbs (as an example, which also applies to other components such as HVAC, fabric, drainage) and would have prioritised the installation of LED bulbs, when LED bulbs were already beginning to gain traction.

BREEAM’s Wst 06 appraisal is, in many ways, a unifier – this design for disassembly and adaptability appraisal would have required the scheme to demonstrate the use of non-bespoke, disassembly-friendly, and adaptable services, connections, and fabric elements. A scheme that was designed for disassembly will find adaptation of LED lights to be relatively simple, compared to schemes that will need to rip out their old service connections and replace them with modern solutions. The value for designing with adaptability in mind has never been higher – even today, schemes that are designed with disassembly and adaptability will find it much easier to implement the technologies of tomorrow. Although we have no way of predicting where certain technologies will go (would LEDs be replaced in the next 60 years?), expert insight that comes with this appraisal goes a long way in identifying long-running, nuanced trends that can help in designing adaptable buildings.