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Project Partners' News: Edinburgh Napier University wins the Qeen's Anniversary Prize for 2009

24 Nov 2009


Innovative construction techniques to improve noise insulation pioneered by the Building Performance Centre at Edinburgh Napier University have led to a 4 fold drop in complaints about noise from neighbours in new build homes and benefited over one million home owners. The research has now received the highest accolade that can be conferred on a higher or further education institution in the UK – the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for 2009. It is the only university in Scotland to receive the prize on this occasion.

The prize, which will be officially awarded at Buckingham Palace in February 2010, recognises the effect that this world leading research has had on revolutionising new-home building practices and standards in England and Wales. The new innovative constructions dramatically reduce noise transmission within new homes and have also led to a range of other benefits for the environment and society.

The background behind the new constructions and innovative regulatory approach was the Robust Standard Details project, which was one of the largest and most intensive research projects ever undertaken between a university and the house building industry. It was funded by the Home Builders’ Federation and 13 of the country’s biggest house builders, including, Barratt Homes and Taylor Wimpey. It has seen 400,000 new homes incorporating the pioneering designs.

Noise complaints, which had risen by 140% between 2001 and 2004, are at their lowest level in eight years in England and Wales for new housing due to the innovations emerging from the research. The introduction of the new Standards in 2004 has resulted in a four-fold drop in noise complaints. In addition, a number of thermal efficiency and structural integrity improvements to address future low carbon housing needs and climate change factors have also been developed.

The uptake of the new construction solutions by the £15 billion UK house building industry was achieved within an extremely short timeframe. The unusually fast uptake was accomplished by incorporating findings into a new building regulation approach in England and Wales called Robust Details. Compliance within this part of the Building Regulations rose from a pass rate of 35% to 97% within 18 months of Robust Details introduction, smashing the ten year target set by the Government.

An additional financial and environmental benefit of this system is the vast reduction in Building Regulations testing requirements for new builds. This removes £14 million in associated costs for testing, as well as 17,000 car journeys. No new house built to the guidelines has yet failed to meet the Building Regulations when built correctly.

Over 40 new products have been developed incorporating the processes and standards developed by the research team. These include Icopal ‘Wall Cap’, a membrane used in between homes that in addition to acoustic benefits can reduce heat loss by 14-22%. The primary funding for the Building Performance Centre research to take ‘Wall Cap’ to market was provided by a Proof of Concept Award from Scottish Enterprise.

Professor Dame Joan Stringer, Edinburgh Napier University Principal and Vice Chancellor, said: “I am enormously proud that the University is being recognised with this prestigious honour. Noise affects the quality of life for so many people and our innovative solutions demonstrate our commitment to undertaking research that directly benefits people and society. The services of our construction research team are now in considerable demand and have received requests to share their insights on a global stage.”

Sean Smith, Professor of Construction Innovation at Edinburgh Napier University’s Building Performance Centre says: “Importantly these new building techniques mean that home-occupants suffer less stress, less sleep interruption and enjoy a better quality of life as they are less blighted by noise. The constructions also result in less heat loss and better energy efficiency to comply with the future low and zero carbon targets. It shows the very real benefits that can result when both universities and the business sector work so closely together.”

A spin-out company called Robust Details Ltd was established to operate the new scheme. Dave Baker, Chief Executive of Robust Details extols the benefits of the innovations made possible by Edinburgh Napier’s research:
“Adopting this approach allows architects, builders and developers to avoid the need for pre-completion sound testing. This eliminates the risk and uncertainty of remedial action being required on completed floor or wall constructions and avoids the associated potential delays and costs in completing the property. Constructing using these guidelines adds real value to the building, rather than paying test fees and in addition has led to many other benefits for environment and society.”


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