Last edited 12 May 2021

Fabric first

A ‘fabric first’ approach to building design involves maximising the performance of the components and materials that make up the building fabric itself, before considering the use of mechanical or electrical building services systems. This can help reduce capital and operational costs, improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions. A fabric first method can also reduce the need for maintenance during the building’s life.

Buildings designed and constructed using the fabric first approach aim to minimise the need for energy consumption through methods such as:

Focussing on the building fabric first, is generally considered to be more sustainable than relying on energy saving technology, or renewable energy generation, which can be expensive, can have a high embodied energy and may or may not be used efficiently by the consumer.

Having energy efficiency integrated into the building envelope can mean occupants are required to do less to operate their building and not have to adjust their habits or learn about new technologies. This can result in less reliance on the end user regarding the buildings energy efficiency.

Fabric first building systems can be constructed off site, resulting in higher quality and so better performance, reduced labour costs and an increased speed of build.

The government’s approach to zero carbon homes and zero carbon non-domestic buildings adopted the fabric first approach. Developers would have been required first to avoid or mitigate regulated emissions by using on-site energy efficiency measures (such as insulation and low energy heating systems) to achieve a minimum Fabric Energy Efficiency Standards, then to adopt on-site zero carbon technologies (such as solar panels) and finally to use off-site measures to deal with any remaining emissions.

Passivhaus, an energy performance standard for dwellings, commercial, industrial and public buildings, also adopts a fabric-first approach to energy efficiency.

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