Green on the inside

9 June 2010

If a law firm occupying part of a multi-storey building asked your company to refit its offices to a high sustainability standard, how would you objectively prove the project’s green credentials? When fit-out contractor Skansen realised that BREEAM assessments were a poor fit for projects where the contractor had no control over the base building, it decided to devise an alternative system that would both cut carbon and add to its services offered to clients.

After four years of R&D, there are now signs that Skansen’s assessment system is being adopted by the wider fit-out sector. After Skansen teamed up with the RICS, Ska Ratings were launched to the industry at the end of 2009. The first interiors projects have been awarded Gold and Silver Ska certificates, the first training courses for assessors have been held, and project registrations on the online Ska system are around 200.

Contractor ISG is sending nine of its staff on a two-day training course for Ska assessors. ISG has already embarked on its first formal assessment, and is now mentioning the scheme to its clients.

“It’s rapidly coming to the fore,” says sustainability manager Lucy Hall. “We decided to fully embrace it, partly because of market demand, and partly because we want to be ahead of the curve.”

According to Hall, the scheme could address several gaps in the market. “It suits smaller projects, and it’ll help tenants who aspire to a green fit-out but who might have taken space in a building that doesn’t have BREEAM excellent or very good. And I’d say our project managers have found it easier to get to grips with Ska compared to BREEAM.”

Ska has been developed to capture data from the smallest interior refresh to major refurbishments, judging their sustainability criteria in isolation from the building they sit in. The system is designed to be user friendly, based on a free online tool that helps to guide early design decisions. The project team can then make headway on cutting carbon without calling in a specialist consultant. “The guidance is exceptionally intuitive, so no one’s sitting around saying ‘where’s our BREEAM assessor when we need him’,” says Skansen director James Pack.

But if the client does want a formal RICS-backed accreditation, then Ska is relatively affordable – RICS director of strategic development Tim Robinson quotes £3,000-£4,000 for an assessor’s services in a commercial office fit-out compared to £20,000 for BREEAM. At this level, Pack feels that contractors will be able to bundle Ska as an added-value service, rather than a costed extra. “It’s not just a promise on a website, it’s a way of enshrining good practice in their procedures,” he says.

List of measures

The Ska rating is based on a list of 99 measures, ranked in order of their impact on energy efficiency and CO2. The measures are also grouped in categories: Energy and CO2; Waste; Water; Pollution; Transport; Materials; Wellbeing; and Other. The project team selects the measures that are relevant to their project: if only 50 are deemed “in scope”, then the project is marked out of 50. Where a trained Ska assessor is involved, their role includes vetting the selection of targets.

The rather complex scoring system lets projects target Gold, Silver or Bronze certificates, requiring 75, 50 and 25% of “in scope” measures to be achieved. However, to avoid projects aiming for the low-hanging fruit of measures at the bottom of the table, they are required to target “gateway” measures from the top half of each category. “In BREEAM and LEED, people go for the easiest and most cost-effective measures, not the most important,” says Pack.

If BREEAM seems to be cropping up rather a lot as a point of comparison, it’s because everyone involved knows that Ska is the new kid on the block where BREEAM has been a respected resident for at least a decade. And since BREEAM can be and already is applied to interior fit-outs – including Morgan Lovell’s refit of its London HQ, a BREEAM 2008 award winner – do we really need yet another sustainability standard?

“BREEAM has always been capable of being applied to both minor and major refurbishments but we are now introducing specific schemes to cater for this area,” comments Simon Guy, BRE marketing director, pointing out that it is currently being used on the flagship fit-out of one floor of the Building Centre for the Construction Products Association.

He adds that fit-out projects can apply to be assessed under the Bespoke system, while the BRE is currently developing BREEAM schemes suitable for domestic and commercial refurbishments.

Robinson responds that BREEAM is best suited to fit-outs that form part of a new build project or a large refurbishment, while Ska can assess smaller standalone projects or the lifecycle work that is set to expand as the market enters a refurb cycle. “We’ve identified a large opportunity, based on feedback from managing agents,” he says.

The challenge now is to spread the word. Currently, 200 projects and 300 users are logged on the free online system, of which 15 are aiming for third-party accreditation. But the Ska team hopes to sign up as many as 10% of the estimated 200,000 interior fit-outs a year in the commercial sector – a target as challenging as the ones it’s encouraging the industry to aim for.


Product news

Service rafts

Radiant Heating Service Rafts from HCP, the heating division of SAS International, will allow greater design flexibility for designers wishing to use ceiling-mounted radiant heating panels in combination with exposed soffits. The new range of rafts are compatible with SAS’s System 600 acoustic lighting raft, and can be fitted with both up and down lighting, and acoustic absorption pads or perforated panels to absorb reflected sound from the exposed soffit. They can be installed individually or linked together in modules
to form longer runs.

Insulated concrete forms

Nudura has introduced three new insulated concrete forms designed for fast commercial and residential construction. Duramax is the largest standard ICF available, measuring 457mm x 2,438mm, enabling 1.115m2 of wall area to be built in one step. The Duralok system features embedded fastening strips that securely lock forms into place, eliminating float and compression and the need to wire forms together.

Durafold can be transported flat, increasing lorry loads by up to 40% compared with traditional ICFs, says Nudura.

Sustainable paint

Project Zero Emission Enterprise, a three-year Dulux research project involving the Forum for the Future and construction group Carillion, investigated the entire lifecycle of paint and identified ways to make each stage more sustainable, from raw materials, through to manufacturing, use and disposal. Based on
its results, Dulux Trade has now launched a new formulation of Ecosure Matt, which contains 35% less C02 than standard formulations. It has also introduced an Environmental Wash System, which captures contaminated water for reuse.

Concrete cladding

An Austrian department store designed by David Chipperfield Architects features white prefabricated concrete facade elements from Hering, polished and ground on site. The concrete mix at Kaufhaus Tyrol in Innsbruck included white cement and a marble with a maximum grain size of 35mm, allowing it to be discernible on the surface. As well as the facade elements, Hering also produced the ceiling and floor slabs, and tiles for the steps and terrace. Closer to home, the company also supplied precast concrete cladding panels for Haggerston Station on the extended East London Line.


Richard Parker, Morgan Sindall Professional Services

Why we specified...

Armstrong Optima Canopy circular ceiling rafts 

Shire Pharmaceuticals, Basingstoke

Richard Parker, principal architect, Morgan Sindall Professional Services

We used the circular ceiling rafts in the basement gym area of a 5,700m2 office extension we designed for Shire.

The client wanted a fitness area, but the building was set out to a standard office floor-to-ceiling height of 2.7m and a floor-to-soffit height of 3.9m. That’s considerably lower than you would find in a normal gym. And when you’re on gym equipment, you’re a bit higher up and want a feeling of space.

So we decided to ditch the mineral fibre tiles in the cost plan and be a bit more interesting. We looked at fabric ceilings and timber slatted ceiling rafts before we found the Armstrong product on the internet.

The drivers were cost, aesthetics and acoustics, as there are offices directly above the gym. The raft gave the visual appearance of having something at ceiling height to conceal the services, but allows you to see some of ductwork and the soffit, which we painted white. It also absorbs sounds from above and below whereas plasterboard, for instance, would only absorb on one face.

It also saved time in the programme. With ceiling tiles you would have to wait for all the services to be installed then you would have to fix the ceiling grid. So the rafts helped fit-out contractor Overbury and base build contractor Morgan Sindall to meet delivery targets.

The product is quite new to the market, but I think it’s one we’re likely to use again. It would be useful for creating features within office spaces where you want to drop the ceiling height. Or it could mask the ceilings in highly serviced areas, such as office corridors or in airports.

The rafts cost less than alternatives, but you have to consider the cost of painting the soffit and taking more care with the service layout. Overall, the cost is probably similar. cm


Product news

Security screen manufacturer Safetell and steel glazing systems specialist Wrightstyle have developed a bullet-resistant security screen designed to protect staff working in ticket booths or behind counters. In ballistic tests, the screen resisted bullets fired from a .44 Magnum handgun without spalling or splintering, as well as a slug from a 12-gauge shotgun. The product incorporates Wrightstyle’s slim SR6040 curtain walling system, which can be fitted with hidden fixing brackets to create a safe and aesthetically pleasing screen.

Dutch firm Kijlstra has launched a square precast concrete manhole for utility connections. According to the company, it can installed in 30 minutes by two men and an excavator. Made from self-compacting concrete, the product has a 120-year design life and is particularly effective in poor ground conditions or where there is a high water table. It meets the BS EN 1917:2002 standard for concrete manholes and inspection chambers and can be fitted with flow control devices such as flap valves and pipework for pump stations.

Construction Manager would like to make the following corrections to an article about AthyECOslates in the April edition. AthyECOslates manufactures recycled plastic tiles and Linpac Packaging Plastics Recycling Division supplies resin for the manufacturing of the tiles. You can contact Linpac Packaging Plastics Recycling at or AthyECOslate at Linpac Environmental has no involvement with AthyECOslates.


Tips of the Trade

Concrete wash water


01 Learn the legislation


The pH of concrete washwater is incredibly high, typically 12 to 13.5 on a scale which runs from one (very acidic) to 14 (highly alkaline) making it corrosive and toxic to fish and other aquatic wildlife. Under the 1991 Water Industry Act, it is illegal to release untreated washwater into the environment. The Environment Agency can and will take offenders to court.

02 Construction activities at risk

The problem of high pH water is not just limited to bleed water from concrete pours. In one study, washing truck mixer discharge chutes alone generated about 20 litres of high pH washwater and up to 5 litres of waste concrete per truck. Hydro-demolition, concrete cutting/drilling and water seepage through crushed concrete or other recycled fill materials are also an issue.

03 Dilution is not the solution

Discharging a small quantity of washwater into a larger watercourse to dilute it is not a solution. In fact, releasing 1m3 of highly alkaline water can push the pH of 10,000m3 of neutral river water beyond allowable discharge limits.


04 Use appropriate equipment

Combined concrete washdown and pH adjustment systems are available to help handle cement solids and water and they can be hired for short-term jobs. Polyethylene-lined skips may collect the washwater but don’t treat it. High pH water is often released into the environment inadvertently through leakages or spillages when transporting the skip off site.


05 Call on the experts

To avoid breaking the law, get advice on handling concrete washwater and pH adjustment from specialist companies at the start of a project and plan for an appropriate method of dealing with the issue.


Dr Richard Coulton, managing director, Siltbuster

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