My name is Tony Duffin and I am CLPM’s construction sustainability consultant. As a sustainability specialist, my role is one of helping our clients to work out the best way to construct or renovate and improve their homes or premises from an energy efficiency perspective.
I’ve been working with CLPM and our homeowner and commercial clients now for over 5 years. Every day is different and brings fresh challenges, and I enjoy using the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the last 30 odd years helping people build and improve more sustainably.
I work flexibly and part-time, so the time I get up varies. I consider myself to be generally a morning person and if I have a distant site visit I’m up before 6.30am but I prefer to lie in until 8:00am – unless the weather is one of those gorgeous clear blue-sky summer mornings and then it is good to get out and tend the vegetable patch.
For breakfast I usually have toast from home-made bread (I am the baker of the household) with home-made marmalade or jam.
I start the day checking my emails, which include a few daily newsfeeds in the sustainable energy sector. I also normally do a quick check on what is generating electricity and feeding into the UK grid. I work very much on a project by project basis. Typically I have a few days of work at the beginning of a building project to help a client and their architect to optimise the building fabric and heating systems, so it tends to be quite quick and well defined time-wise. I do also sometimes get called in for ‘get-well’ programmes where a building has problems, and I have recently been helping a number of charities reduce their energy bills in this way.
I care deeply about the environment, and like to ‘walk the talk’. I drive an economical diesel but I typically only cover around 4000 miles per year. I am mainly home based but I would say I go to site or offices on average twice a week. I prefer public transport where it is practical to get to client meetings, the site or our head office. I find I get more done in the day when I use public transport than if I am stuck in traffic. The nature of my role is much more about analysis and calculation, with a final dose of searching for relevant information or products from manufacturers, which is usually on the web. Reading the latest research reports is also important, and you can do that on the train – even if it is stuck and running late! You will also find me on a bike if that neatly knits bits of public transport together. I have a 15 year old Brompton folding bike which has done over 10,000 miles and is still going strong thanks to the new wheels, which I built myself.
Typically, a day onsite with a client will be spent discussing how to solve fabric related problems, e.g. dealing with unexpected cold-bridges, seeking easier and lower cost means of achieving the required insulation levels, or pre- during and post- air testing. For a refurbishment, then I will do a full non-intrusive survey to understand the building better. I need to be sure about the construction method used and the condition of critical parts e.g. floor joists and the roof timbers. I also carry out energy surveys and audits to help reduce client’s energy bills.
My core expertise is in the sustainability of energy in buildings. For over 25 years I have worked on energy and environmental technologies – reducing the impact of our energy-hungry lifestyles. Thus I have focused on understanding how buildings and the people within them use energy, what makes people comfortable or uncomfortable and then how we can provide the best comfort for the minimum energy use. I also have experience of the life-cycle impact of the construction of a building and so can help choose lower impact methods in construction. I have worked on historic and heritage buildings but also all the way through ‘standard’, Code for Sustainable Homes and Passiv Haus. I have experience of the four main construction types (brick, Timber frame, SIPS, ICF) plus some straw-bale builds. They are all interesting and all have their place.
The main initial way I start to tackle my work is discussing with a client what their aims are for energy and the environment. I spend my time analysing and modelling the thermal performance of a building, before and after suggested treatments. My advice to clients looking to get the best result for their building project is to approach their project with an open mind and to get proper independent specialist advice. Before rushing headlong into the construction phase, clients should have an open discussion of their aims and objectives for the energy performance of the building. How do they want the building to perform? Is it an all-out zero-carbon, low impact build in which they want low or no-energy bills but with an expectation of high first cost. Alternatively, is this an attempt to make the best building using conventional construction but with a lower initial investment? I always think it’s better to begin a discussion with no pre-conceived ideas and an open mind, rather than a shopping list of technologies they would like to include.
My work is quite mentally intense and so it’s important to have a short break sometime around mid-day. I sometimes find a lunchtime cycle, perhaps a nice 15 mile loop in good weather takes me about an hour and is great to let the mind relax and solve some of those pernickety problems. As I work predominantly at home I’m lucky to be able to select something typically something delicious and home-made for lunch. Very often my lunch with include seasonal vegetables from the garden (e.g. summer garden risotto with tender fresh peas, young purple sprouting broccoli, small sweet broad beans) and, of course home-made bread. If I had a goat I expect I would make cheese!
I love my work. I get a huge sense of satisfaction helping clients achieve their sustainability aims, and seeing their finished building performing in the way it was designed to do. As an engineer I’m naturally very practical and so have also designed and built a two-storey extension (when I was younger). In our current home I have reduced its energy consumption to about 30% of what it was when we bought it. Most of this was achieved by including carefully thought out energy efficiency measures during refurbishment (or even decoration) but I do also have solar panels and a top-end home heating control system.
Away from my consultancy work with CLPM I also spend time working with other sustainability experts. I am currently working with research teams developing new energy conscious and environmentally friendly technologies. This includes building and checking the prototype equipment.
I often work from home, as this is more time efficient. Being at home avoids travel, and allows me to concentrate on a particular building without interruption. I usually finish work sometime between 5pm and 7pm in the evening, but if I’m out seeing clients I occasionally won’t get back home until after 8pm.
Cycling is my preferred exercise. I like to cycle off-road if possible as our roads are so crowded. A good 20 mile bash on the hills around the Ridgeway is always good fun. I am also a bee-keeper, so on a summer evening you may find me surrounded by 50,000 bees as I inspect the hives. Bread-making is another good way to relax, it is a really hands-on activity with a highly satisfying end product. I volunteer for a local mental health charity where I get to teach people about bread making.
This weekend I cycled 60 miles mainly along canal tow paths from Banbury to Birmingham to spend the weekend with family there and to see an old University friend of mine. Earlier in the summer I cycled Banbury to Oxford with my daughter hence I have ridden most of the length of the Oxford Canal plus a bit of the Grand Union into Birmingham. I have also completed Bath to Reading riding along the Kennet and Avon canal (in two parts). It is great way to get a new perspective on the countryside and routes that might be familiar by train or car. The M40 runs not far from the Oxford canal most of the length so you can see that part of the world at a much better pace. Also rode about 40 miles through superb Hampshire countryside from Winchester to Guildford in the summer with a friend and colleague. You meet some lovely people enroute too and there are some great cafes and pubs.
Are you interested in independent sustainability advice for your building project? If you’d like to find out more about how our Construction Sustainability Consultant can help you improve the energy performance of your home or premises we’d love to hear from you. Simply call 01923 896550, complete a contact form, or email us on email@example.com.