RGU project receives international award for building innovation and research

A project led by architectural experts at Robert Gordon University (RGU) to investigate a new insulation technique for historic buildings has won an industry award for innovation.

The university’s Bogendollo House project, which saw a cutting edge solution used for the first time on the early 19th century category C Listed Building near Fettercairn, has received a merit award in the CIOB (Chartered Institute of Building) International Innovation and Research Awards 2014.

The award is in the Innovation Achiever’s category which recognises outstanding industry-based innovation that has improved upon – or extended beyond – current expectations of best practice.

The project saw the RGU team, led by Dr Amar Bennadji, use water-blown foam developed by Canadian company Icynene specifically for injecting into delicate structures, to insulate an internally-lined solid masonry wall without causing damage to the historic features of the wall.

Following the initial trial, which also received a commendation in last year’s Saltire Society Housing Design Awards, further research and monitoring was carried out to refine the method which has now been successfully used throughout the entire building.

Dr Bennadji, a founding member of RGU’s research institute for Innovation, Design and Sustainability (IDEAS), said:

“We’re delighted that this project has been recognised by the CIOB for its innovation and are excited about the potential it has to help the drive towards better insulating existing building stock across the country, including private small scale houses, castles and churches.

“The foam used in the process expands slowly, putting little pressure on fragile inner walls and, as it is 100% water-blown, it contains no harmful agent. Additionally, through its open cell structure, the foam allows the wall to breathe which assists in controlling moisture movement.”

“The next step for us is to work towards taking Bogendollo to a Passivhaus standard. Passivhaus is the highest level of energy efficiency a building can achieve and it is extremely difficult to reach in existing and historic structures so it will be a big challenge.”

IDEAS research co-ordinator for the Scott Sutherland School of Architecture and Built Environment, Professor Richard Laing, said:

“It is great that an RGU project has been recognised in this way by the CIOB, particularly in an international category such as this, as it highlights the ground breaking work that our researchers are involved in.

“Amar’s work has shown the value of RGU working with companies to develop new and innovative ways in which we can improve our buildings.”

The team of 16 experts, which included academics, industry representatives and a historian, came up with the solution thanks to a deep understanding of traditionally built structures, which has mostly been abandoned today.

Under new European regulations, the 400,000 historic listed buildings in the UK are required to be insulated in order to make appropriate energy and carbon savings.

Dr Bennadji said:

“After insulating the entire building, the heat transfer through the walls was reduced by 50%, which if applied on a larger scale across the UK could have a huge impact on reducing carbon emissions from existing and historic buildings.

“Existing buildings will still represent 80% of the building stock by 2050, the date by which the UK is aiming to cut its carbon emissions by 80% from 1990 level.”

Dr Bennadji is now looking for partners with other research expertise to improve the airtightness of the building’s sash windows, a complex addition to the building industry from the Victorian era.

He has received further funding to assess the current building performance and energy demand released by the biomass boiler that the house was equipped with.

He added:

“A big thank you to the building’s owners, David and Lisa Gibbons-Wood, who offered their house for these trials despite the risks involved.”

The initial trial was funded by the European Regional Development Fund and the Scottish Government’s SEEKIT Programme under the Construction Improvement Club (CIC) scheme.

The completion of the project was funded through the UK government initiative Green Deal, Icynene, Kishorn Insulations and Mr and Mrs Gibbons-Wood.

The two phases were completed as part of a collaboration between RGU, Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, local architect consultants and industry partners Icynene, Kishorn Insulations and GMS Renewable Products.