COMMUNITY BUILDING CHECKLIST
Are you running a community building in Oxfordshire? Are you thinking of making improvements to save energy or installing low carbon technologies like solar panels? These tips and resources can help.
For any efficiency measures you end up taking or low carbon technologies you install in your building, please consider adding them our People’s Power Station, an online map showcasing and celebrating how together we are turning Oxfordshire low carbon. Just follow this link to plug into the People’s Power Station.
If you have any follow-up questions, please contact us using our Helpdesk: www.lowcarbonhub.org/our-services/helpdesk/.
To start off, understand your energy use in your building
Any information about your building’s current energy performance and usage will stand you in good stead when it comes to setting targets and considering more expensive improvements.
Collect information about current energy use
- Get hold of actual data of energy used (in units like kWh), such as meter readings – make sure these are not estimates but actual ones
- Smart meters can provide half-hourly meter readings, if you have one, though a third-party app may be needed to access these, if your electricity provider does not make them available to you
- More detailed readings can be useful, depending on your circumstances – for example, if you are considering solar panels, knowing how much energy is used when can help size the panels to maximise energy use on site and minimise exporting electricity (shortening the payback period; see solar panels section below)
- Have systems in place to collect and review this data regularly.
- Get hold of actual data of energy used (in units like kWh), such as meter readings – make sure these are not estimates but actual ones; go to ‘Where to look for other advice and support’ below for a link to useful ‘how to’ videos.
Analyse and understand current energy use
- Once you have the data, you can get a better idea of how energy use relates to how the building is used
- If you have more detailed data, you can look at patterns of energy use compared to building use on different days, or even at times of day and evening (if it varies a lot)
- If not, you can simply compare energy use with that of the space (measured in hours per month or year), to start setting targets for improvements
- Remember, there will be seasonal differences in energy use too, so looking at patterns over different months can also be useful.
Consider getting a professional energy assessment for your building
- An energy assessment can help you understand the way your building uses energy and the range of options that could both reduce your energy use and carbon footprint; it is a very practical document that looks at current and future energy use, outlining a wide range of different solutions with costs and payback periods
- Occasionally we have funding which enables us to offer fully funded energy assessments. You can check current availability here.
- Or, if you wanted an assessment to be completed sooner, you could go through our Energy Solutions Oxfordshire service (the average cost is £1,500 though it can vary depending on the building).
Think about what you want to achieve and get organised
Agree and document your goals for energy reduction and management
- Consider having a strategy, with clear targets, for managing the building’s energy use going forward
- Ensure you have documented procedures to manage day-to-day energy use, including logging any improvements made (so you can check them against the data collected)
- Agree whose responsibility it will be to manage day-to-day energy use, for example a building caretaker
- Decide how to measure overall progress against your targets and set up regular reviews – this can also help with communications
- Agree whose responsibility it will be to lead on strategy and reviews, for example a committee member or trustee, an interested volunteer, or the building caretaker.
Look at options to make improvements to energy performance
As well as more costly measures, usually there are quite a few easier options to reduce energy use – quick-wins for saving money and the planet.
Improving the fabric of your building
- This can be installing or increasing the levels of existing insulation (to floors, walls, and ceilings)
- Checking the building for draughts and adding appropriate draught proofing, looking in particular at windows and external doors.
Other low-cost measures to improve energy efficiency
- Replace old lighting with LED lights
- Instal thermal blinds or curtains to help retain heat in cold weather and prevent overheating from direct sunlight
- Upgrade heating controls so they can be easily set to match bookings and not overheat the space once users have left
- Review hot water used in your building, including boilers for drinks, so they are well managed and minimise wasted energy
- Switch off items unnecessarily on standby and actively manage other appliances; timers or smart plugs can be useful controls to help you and users do so
- Inform users about energy management, for example in booking information and through on-site signage
- Some community spaces can be uncomfortable, especially in cold months – so another option is to try and use the space more: this may also use more energy overall, but less per hour of use while improving comfort.
Low carbon technologies, including solar panels and heat pumps
Once you have reduced energy usage, through improvements to your building and working with your users, the next step is to look at the scope for new technologies. This can be for decarbonising your heating, adding energy storage or chargers, or renewable generation like solar panels.
Community buildings can be a good place to showcase innovation in zero carbon and energy to local communities. So in certain locations, a wider range of options than those listed below might be appropriate, for example micro wind turbines, geothermal, or biomass installations.
Key will be to use the information you have gathered to find the best solution, or combination of solutions, that suits your building and how it is being used. Do your research, including getting quotes, and then make a plan.
Don’t forget, you can commission expert help from our Energy Solutions Oxfordshire (ESOx) service if you wish. See the section on ‘further advice and support’ below for help finding installers, as well as funding.
- Remember, solar panels produce electricity during the day and more in the summer than the winter, so consider how that fits with your energy use
- Any electricity you generate that is not used on site when it is produced will be exported to the grid; usually the payment per kWh is less than what you will pay to your supplier – see this information on the Smart Export Guarantee
- If solar generation does not match your patterns of energy use, installing battery storage can provide more low-cost energy to the building
- Find out if your building could be suitable for hosting a Low Carbon Hub installation
- If not and you do not wish to commission ESOx, you could progress plans for solar panels yourselves to determine what might be viable
- The Centre for Sustainable Energy have a solar PV assessment calculator to support more communities to get solar power which will provide easy, quick, accurate, and independent predictions about the viability for solar PV on buildings
- Another tool that is free to use is this one from Open Solar, but be aware it is from a company that is looking to sell its services.
- If your building’s heating system is nearing the end of its life, it can be a good idea to replace it with efficient heat pumps that run on electricity but doing so requires careful planning
- Ground or air source heat pumps can use existing heating pipework but are best suited to buildings that are well-insulated
- Some heat pump designs can also provide efficient cooling in hot weather.
- EV chargers, while not reducing energy, can promote use of electric vehicles to support carbon and pollution reduction
- Depending on your community, it can be useful to add to the local EV-charging infrastructure for local residents or visitors
- Make sure you know if you need permission for installing EV chargers at your site. Oxfordshire County Council has information on its website
- You will need to consider how chargers will be looked after and any issues addressed (see the case studies below)
- Chargers have different charge speeds: fast charging takes hours and is suitable for longer stays or overnight charging
- Chargers can also have security systems to limit access and payment systems.
Ventilation and cooling
- As UK summers continue to have more heatwaves, community buildings can act to provide comfortable spaces: insulation and shading can limit overheating in hot weather
- Management of doors and windows can limit in-door temperatures and purge build-up of heat; note that natural and powered ventilation (heat pumps) can be much more efficient than traditional air conditioning.
Project development guide – generic
Community Energy London have developed a general Step by Step Project Guide to help groups navigate their way through the various stages of delivering a project. They also have more detailed, specific project guides for different technologies on the same webpage.
Last but not least, communication throughout is key
In all these steps, make sure you inform and where appropriate involve people. And of course share and celebrate successes!
- Ensure your management committee/trustees regularly review the strategy for making the building work more efficiently when it comes to energy and move towards zero carbon (as far as possible)
- Put in place a programme to help make sure any staff, volunteers, and users are aware of energy use, any targets for improvements, and how they can help
- Make sure any training is updated and repeated when needed – this could be when new people become involved or when new technologies are implemented, or simply when a reminder might be useful
- Share any targets you have set with those using and helping run the building, as well as updates on how it is going – say ‘thank you’ when improvements are made or targets met
- Develop and update supporting materials that will work for your building – it could be posters or smaller signs to put up around the building, a presentation for any meetings, or updates for newsletters.
Communicating with the wider community
- It can be useful to have evidence of your building’s environmental impact designed for the general public too, to be transparent about energy usage, targets, and improvements
- It could help both with marketing your building to potential new users or volunteers who may be interested in sustainability
- And it may contribute to local net zero plans, for example your Neighbourhood Plan (if there is one) – across Oxfordshire a few Pathways to a Zero Carbon Oxfordshire have been set out in 2021, with work now taking place to develop more specific roadmaps.
Where to look for other advice and support
- Our Energy Solutions Oxfordshire (ESOx) service has information on finance and funding, including charities and not-for-profit organisations
- Community First Oxfordshire has information, in particular relating to village halls and parish councils, or see https://oxfordshire.org/ocfgrants/
- The fortnightly CAG Oxfordshire newsletter The Key has a useful funding section, as has their website
- Local authorities can also apply for funding (generally capital) at favourable rates from the Public Works Loan Board and pass that on to community groups
- Donations can play a role, e.g. using a platform like Crowdfunder (there are others, we’re not making any recommendations).
- You could also see if your local authorities can offer support in various ways; for South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse District Councils you can find information here (July 2023).
Finding contractors and installers
- Our service Energy Solutions Oxfordshire (ESOx) offers services around procurement, project management, sourcing funding, and monitoring work once implemented
- Try MCS, TrustMark, or Buy With Confidence to search for vetted contractors near you – it is good practice to get more than one quote
- Yougen offer tips for finding a reputable installer
- Which? has a useful article on buying solar panels in particular
- We are always happy to share the list of solar PV installers we currently use; we do not make any recommendations – please contact us through our Helpdesk.
- We have a found a few metrics useful in differentiating between quotes of different sizes and using different technologies (such as solar PV with battery vs non battery and one battery vs another battery quotes). Using these should allow you to get a clearer picture of the potential energy savings for each quote and from there the financial and carbon implications of each of the options available to you. The metrics are:
- kWh/kWp [kilo Watt peak] – known as ‘yield’, telling you how much power will be produced compared to the generating capacity
- £/kWp – comparing the price of different-sized systems to show how much generation capacity you are getting for your money
- kWh used on site – letting you know how much of the generated energy will be used by your building and what will be exported to the grid; if you can provide your electricity consumption data to your installer they should be able to let you know
- kWh saved by battery per year (if you’re looking at the option) – showing you how much energy you would save with a battery, and — when compared to kWh used on site – it will give you an idea how much more a battery would save, to then help decide if a battery is worth it for you
- £/kWh saved – applying a monetary value (use the unit cost of kWh on your current bills) to both the figures you have for kWh used on site and kWh saved by battery per year, allows you to project the anticipated financial benefits of the different combinations of array sizes and technology types.
- Other factors to think about when deciding which quote to choose include ease of operations, warranty, and maintenance. If the installation is easy to maintain and to find replacement parts for, that will help the system to be operating at full capacity as much as possible. You can also look at differences in the warranties available. It may be different ones offered by the manufacturers of components such as PV panels, inverter, and battery (if applicable). From an operations and maintenance standpoint, understanding what monitoring equipment is provided by each party and how easy it will be for you to access this may also be a point of differentiation. Having access to monitoring data can help understand performance and diagnose any potential faults.
- Sustainable Kirtlington have installed solar PV, a battery, and 2 EV charging points at their local village hall: www.lowcarbonhub.org/p/projects/kirtlington-village-hall-solar-panels/ and https://kirtlingtonvillage.co.uk/sustainable-kirtlington
- Dean Court Community Association have installed solar PV and a battery (with
support from OxFutures, an ERDF-funded programme we did help deliver):
https://oxfutures.org/projects/dean-court-community-centre/ – in their case it made sense to combine solar PV with a battery as the majority of users visit in the evening, so energy is stored during the day when the solar panels are generating the most energy, then releasing that energy when there is less generation and more demand in the evening.
- Thame Green Living run an EV-hire car club: www.thamegreenliving.org.uk/project/ev-hire-club/
- For wider community heat networks, you can check out this resource from Low Carbon West Oxford.
- Brighton Energy Co-operative seem to have solar PV and EV combinations up and running: https://brightonenergy.org.uk/electric-vehicle-charge-points/ (though are looking for sites of at least 500m2 to install solar PV and charge points).
- A recording of a presentation by Wallingford Sports Trust and one by the Harwellian Club given at an event organised by South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse District Councils (July 2023).
‘How to’ advice
The Action on Carbon and Energy in Schools (ACES) website has lots of useful ‘how to’
videos. Although created with schools in mind, they cover many topics relevant to
community buildings: from how to find out your annual energy use to managing your