Environmental Science in Building

Seventh edition

by Randall McMullan

Investigative tasks


These tasks are intended to strengthen what you have learned by reviewing material in the book, by investigating topics further, and by relating your learning to practical situations. The tasks encourage working with your choice of environment, ranging from something on the scale of a room in a building to whole countries, and even the whole planet if you wish.

Your responses are likely to be deeper, or even different, as you learn more from the book and from other sources. You can choose your own level of response to these tasks according to your needs. Always try to make use of technical terms and measurements from the book.

It is possible to read the tasks and think of answers in your head, but your learning will be improved if you write down ideas, even as rough notes. As a means of encouraging thinking and recording some of the tasks use tables. The tables can be initially generated on a word processor, used for investigating and rough notes, then formalised into a report at a later stage.

The contents of the book, together with the references in the book and on this website are starting points for finding further information.

Chapters 1 and 14 are useful resources for making links between the specialised topics in the other chapters.

Resources in construction

Figure 1.1 in the book indicates that there is a natural environment and a built environment. These classifications help us to think the wider environment and the diagram also indicates the idea of a resource environment.
  • Make a list of items in the resource environment, such as types of materials, which are especially important to the construction industry.
Choose a sector within the built environment – such as building, civil engineering, or building services engineering and consider the following questions in relation to your chosen sector.
  • Which items of the resource environment are used and which are most important?
  • Which items have greatest impact on construction costs in that sector?
  • Which items are the most difficult to produce and use in a sustainable fashion?
  • Which items are likely to become rarer or more expensive?

Thermal insulation comparisons

Refer to Chapters 2 and 3.

Choose at least two buildings of different ages such as one that has been built in recent decades and an older contrasting building. For each building, establish the probable construction of the main walls and their internal insulation. You can use techniques such as:
  • Inspecting the external bond type of the brickwork. Stretcher bond indicates a cavity
  • Finding the total thickness of the wall by measuring or estimating at the door or window openings
  • Looking up common building techniques and insulation requirements for the time of building. Table 3.4 may be helpful
  • Using original drawings for that building type, if available.
Compare the buildings by means of a table that shows the following information.
  • Notes describing of the construction of the walls
  • U -values of the walls (estimated values if necessary)
  • The U-values converted to ratios of the best (lowest) U-value. Eg Two U-values of 0.3 and 2.4 give a ratio of 1:8
​Such ratios allow you to explain that heat flows through the older wall 8 times (say) faster than through the modern wall. The heating bill for the older wall is therefore 8 times greater than the modern wall.

Practical energy conservation

Refer to Chapters 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 14.

Take a building that you know, such as your home, learning place or workplace. It probably helps if you choose a building whose performance for energy conservation is relatively poor!

Draw up a table with the following broad headings
  • Insulation performance
  • Window performance
  • Ventilation characteristics
  • Fuels used
  • Heating controls
  • Hot water supply
  • Lighting including its controls
  • Renewable energy technologies
  • Other
Use the table to help assess your chosen building and note the following:
  • Areas where the building performs particularly poorly for energy conservation
  • Options for improving energy use in all areas.
Some sources
The section of Chapter 2 titled Practical details for energy conservation is a useful starting point. This type of assessment is a first step towards a formal SAP (Standard Assessment Procedure) often required by building codes. You can also find material in Chapter 14.

Sound environment

Choose a room that you know well, such as in your home, learning place or workplace. It helps if you choose a room where the sound environment has poor features that are noticeable, such as noise intrusion.

Draw up a table with the following headings as a check list:
1. Sound qualities
  • Internal sound qualities (adequate levels, even distribution, correct reverberation)
  • External noise intrusion
  • Other qualities
2. Construction features
  • Nature of walls, floors, ceiling
  • Surface types
  • Windows, doors and other openings
  • Ventilation arrangements
  • Other features
Use the table to help you.
  • Make a survey of the room
  • Link the construction features of the room with the features of the sound environment.
  • Prioritise areas of poor performance in terms of annoyance to users
  • Make suggestions for improving the sound environment by renovations to the building and its surrounds
  • Make suggestions for avoiding the situation when designing new buildings.
Some sources
Chapters 9 and 10 provide useful background material. Table 14.4 Interactions of environmental decisions will also be useful.

Water infrastructures

Refer to Chapter 12 and Chapter 13.

If you go camping in the countryside you are forced to think about water for drinking and washing, and to think carefully about disposing of waste products, including body waste. The simplest settlement of just a few buildings needs to think about water supplies and waste disposal, before any building takes place.

Most established villages and towns are sited next to their original water supplies. Yet living in a modern town or city we are often unaware of how these basic and vital services are provided; although the occasional breakdown in systems can give us memorable lessons!

For the area where you live or work, investigate where water is supplied from and where it is sent as waste. Consider the following questions and draft responses to them.
1. Water supply
  • What are the natural sources of your water? Geographically from where? Is the water from underground or from surface sources?
  • What sort of qualities does your water have before treatment? How do these qualities relate to the sources?
  • What treatment does your water receive? What type of storage, filtration, and disinfection?
  • What are the features of the distribution system?
  • Are there visible features of the water supply infrastructure, such as large reservoirs, pumping stations, pipelines or other items?
  • Is your water naturally hard or soft? What causes this state?
2. Waste water disposal
  • Do the toilets in your building have water-saving features?
  • Is the surface water taken away from the property?
  • Does the local road have separate foul water and surface water sewers, or does it have a combined sewer, or no sewer at all?
  • Where do the sewers take the waste water? Geographically to where?
  • What routes are used?
  • Are there visible features of the waste water infrastructure, such as pumping stations, pipelines or other items?
  • What processes are used to treat sewage at the treatment station?
  • What arrangements are used to dispose of the effluent and the sludge produced by the treatment processes?
Some sources
The utilities companies that provide water and waste services are sizeable organisations with large financial resources. They are usually keen to explain their work, show their facilities and encourage educational programmes. Their websites are a good starting point for finding out information.

Energy supplies

Refer to Chapter 11.

Britain has a large system of many electricity generation plants which are inter-connected via a national grid that supplies consumers. It is difficult to know which power station is feeding electricity to you at any one time because it can keep changing –that is one of the reasons for having such a grid.

For this exercise you should choose a power station near you, or else choose one for which you can obtain information. Consider the following questions and draft responses to them.
  • Where is the power station sited? What were the likely technical reasons for its location?
  • What fuel or fuels does it use? Has it changed fuel use in its lifetime?
  • What sort of generating plant does it use?
  • Does the plant use any modern technologies for improving efficiency and cleanliness of flue outputs
  • What is the maximum electrical output capacity of the plant? What is the overall efficiency of the plant?
  • Are there any notable visual features of the plant, such as tall chimneys or cooling towers?
  • How old is the plant and what is its likely lifespan?
  • What sort of transmission lines lead from the plant in terms of number and size and possible voltage? Nearer to your building:
  • Where is the nearest sizeable substation where transmission lines are connected to local distribution networks?
  • Is the local distribution network visible on poles in the street or is it underground?
Although the above task is centred on electricity supply, a similar investigation could be made into the features of your gas supply. The same utilities companies are often responsible for generation and distribution of both electricity and gas supplies.

Some sources
Websites of the generating companies and the national grid companies – they are usually keen to show and explain their assets.

Government websites with details of national energy statistics are useful.

Wikipedia has information about UK utilities companies and their resources.

Green buildings

Refer to Chapter 14.

Take a commercial or public building that you know, such as the place where you work or study. Think about its nature, its locality and how it relates to its wider surroundings and environment.

Consider the following questions and draft responses to them, using appropriate technical terms, values and units. The aim is to draft a ‘green’ appraisal of the building.
  • What is the macro climate for the region where the building is sited, and did the original design of the building allow for this?
  • Are there micro-climates around the building, or parts of the building, and what effects do they have?
  • When the building was constructed, what impact to you think that the supply of materials and the construction activities had upon local and global resources?
  • By current standards, how does the building perform for energy conservation?
  • In terms of modern standards for carbon emissions, how do you judge the building?
  • Is the building known for being a ‘sick’ building, or does it have any physical features that might contribute to such an effect?
  • List the major areas of building performance that could be improved.
  • Can you assign rough priorities to these areas in terms of ease of adoption, and of cost?
To describe aspects of the performance of the building it may be useful to calculate or estimate comparative ratios or some other form of vividly describing the performance.

If you have chosen an older building then it is also useful to consider and record the design and construction factors that might have been important when the building was constructed.

Some sources
Chapter 14 contains a useful section on Sustainable Buildings.