Insights January 09, 2023

Can you Retrofit with Natural Materials?

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For our office CPD session this month we dived into Natural Materials and Retrofit.

We know it’s important for both people’s health and planetary health to specify more natural materials, so we decided to learn more through ACAN’s Natural Materials & Retrofit Introduction, made available for free by the voluntary network.

We were reminded that 80% of today’s buildings will still exist in 2050 and that successfully retrofitting these buildings will play a critical role in addressing the twin crises of climate and ecological breakdown.

Retrofitting with Natural Materials can deliver energy saving measures that provide healthy, comfortable buildings for the occupants without causing damage to the building fabric. Simultaneously reducing energy demand (and therefore energy bills) whilst using materials that cause can be ecologically regenerative.

We learnt about the wide range of natural materials available for retrofit including Hemp wool, Sheep’s wool, Wood Fibre, Cork & Cellulose.

We also learn about some of the risks to lookout for when retrofitting homes such as condensation & mould growth. To prevent these problems in our projects we are developing a set of standard details in collaboration with Steico, a market leader in wood fiber insulation materials. We’ll be interrogating the build ups together and calculating the dew point to ensure we avoid problematic damp issues.  

The talks also covered fire protection and re-affirmed our understanding that whilst fire should be avoided at all costs it is actually safer to to use high density natural insulations as these will be less likely to catch fire and produce fewer poisonous gases if they do combust.   

We also discussed the interrelation between moisture, breathability and airtightness – something we’ll be writing more on the coming weeks.

Here’s an overview of the speakers who took part in the event:

Chris Brookman of Back to Earth and ASBP Natural Fibre Insulation Group

Back to Earth was started in 1995 (and is still run) by Chris Brookman, a Chemistry graduate, and was originally a building company specialising construction with sustainable materials such as cob and lime. By 2007 the business had morphed into a materials supplier at which point Back to Earth’s sole business was supplying sustainable building materials.

Chris Morgan of John Gilbert Architects

John Gilbert Architects is a Scottish design studio, passionate about designing places for people and the planet. They deliver beautiful, efficient, affordable projects designed in collaboration with users, residents and the community, undertaking design work from a strategic level to detailed architecture with creativity, enthusiasm and knowledge.

Chris is the director responsible for Hab-Lab, a service specialising in building performance evaluation and runs a number of new-build and retrofit projects. He recently completed Scotland’s current largest new-build Passivhaus housing project (10 homes in Garelochead) and Scotland’s first stone tenement EnerPhit project which incorporated natural materials into a highly energy efficient retrofit project.

Grigor Mitchell, Grigor Mitchell Architects

Grigor Mitchell Architects are an Edinburgh based practice. Director, Grigor Mitchell is an award-winning architect and certified Passivhaus designer specialising in innovative, economic and energy efficient projects for homeowners and commercial clients.

Grigor provides bespoke consultancy and assessment services for private clients, architectural practices and leading academic institutions. He is an experienced designer of retrofit projects who regularly incorporates the use of natural materials into his retrofit projects and is currently undertaking PAS 2035 training with the Retrofit Academy. Grigor is also employed as a part-time tutor at the University of Edinburgh.

Here’s the event itself if you are keen to learn more too:

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