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Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation, Edinburgh

Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation, Edinburgh

Seeking an aspirational BREEAM ‘Outstanding’, ECCI would be the first listed or refurbished building to be awarded this rating.


The Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI) is a hub for the knowledge, innovation and skills required to create a low carbon economy. Hosted by the University of Edinburgh, in partnership with Heriot-Watt University and Edinburgh Napier University, the ECCI supports Government policy implementation, enhances business enterprise and innovation and delivers professional skills training.

Work began on the construction of ECCI's new premises in February 2012. This case study covers the refurbishment and remodelling of space in the University of Edinburgh’s Old High School in High School Yards to create an innovation suite, lecture theatres, seminar rooms, exhibition and social space.

The building refurbishment complies with the University of Edinburgh Estates & Building Sustainability Strategy, which includes commitments to social responsibility and sustainability and requires environmental standards higher than legal requirements.

The objective was to create a low energy and highly efficient building targeting a minimum BREEAM rating of ‘Excellent’ and an aspirational rating of ‘Outstanding’. The ECCI would be the first listed or refurbished building to be awarded 'Outstanding' if it is achieved.



At the design and build stage the commitment towards achieving BREEAM 'Outstanding' involved careful consideration of building materials, building methods, energy use and transport choices, led by Malcolm Fraser Architects and contractors Graham.


Existing Building

The building at High School Yards, refurbished by ECCI, was built by Alexander Laing in 1777 as the Royal High School of Edinburgh at the cost of £4000. In the early 19th century, the old school was closed and in 1832 re-opened as a Surgical Hospital, in which the University of Edinburgh held its Anatomy classes. Throughout the 20th century, the University used the Old High School building to house a number of different departments until 2011, when work began on the refurbishment. During the University occupation of the building, many of the original internal features were removed or covered up.

The ECCI refurbishment project involved a major alteration and extension of the Category B listed, Old High School. Where a pair of historic 18th century buildings had been lost, next to the rear ECCI building, a new Café building has been created, with meeting/office spaces above. A generous opening within the lecture and teaching space reinforces a new connection to the adjacent courtyard.


Fabric Improvements

The main structure, inserted within the atrium and all new construction areas, is a Cross Laminated Timber frame (CLT) and CLT floor panels system. CLT is said to lock in around 4-5 times more Carbon than it takes to produce. Steel structural beams removed from the existing building were assessed by the Structural Engineer; many were able to be reused as supports within the construction.

The existing Cullaloe and Blaxter stonework has been carefully and conservatively repaired. The ‘base’ course to the new construction areas is also constructed in Cullaloe stone from Fife. Locally sourced stone is durable and repairable.

The upper levels of the new construction are covered in Bronze cladding (80% Copper and 20% Tin). This is lightweight reducing demand on the structure. It is a durable and a recyclable material.

The existing sash windows have been retained and repaired with additional draft proofing and the installation of slim line double glazed units in some areas.

The external wall construction is supported by deep composite timber studs. The internal partitions are also timber stud.

Insulation is a combination of flexible woodfibre batts and rigid fibreboard with an airtight layer internally. The wall construction is vapour open, allowing moisture to move from both inside the building, and from within the wall construction, to the outside. This improves the internal environment and also the health of the construction.

Internal finishes use timber for floors, ceilings and many wall linings. Other floors use linoleum (from natural sources) and carpets. Paint finishes are waterbased and have high breathability to work in conjunction with the vapour open external wall construction.

All wall constructions and internal finishes are low VOC and all timber used is FSC.

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Service Improvements

The ventilation strategy is primarily passive natural ventilation. An air source heat exchanger also supplies limited chilled beam cooling to some rooms. Cooling and displacement air are only in high occupancy rooms (e.g. lecture theatres).

Internal and external lighting is low energy (including LEDs) throughout, with zoned control and use of sensors to limit usage. Daylight studies were carried out at design stage to maximise natural light and reduce areas of summer overheating. 

All sanitary appliances are low water usage. Rainwater harvesting was intended to be installed, until 14th Century archaeology discovered on site inhibited the location of storage tanks. Permeable landscaping and an increase of soft landscaping is also used to control and divert surface water.

A district CHP system is installed to provide heating and power. Photovoltaic panels (covering 30m²) were also installed on the south facing roof surfaces of the rear building.


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The ECCI aimed to achieve BREEAM 'Outstanding' for the refurbishment and remodelling of the Old High School building. This has been achieved at design stage - the first refurbished building in the UK to reach this level. Construction stage assessment is currently being undertaken.

Performance of the ECCI has been estimated as follows:

  • CO2 emissions: 52,605kg.CO2 per annum
  • Air tightness: 6.84m³/h.m² @ 50Pa
  • Energy consumption: 147,785 kWh per annum - 30% less than the former buildings performance through passive design (e.g. solar gain and shading).

A connection to a nearby district Combined Heat and Power (CHP) has allowed a 38% decrease in CO2 emissions. The CHP can meet 56% of the building's energy demands. The PV array allows a 2% CO2 reduction and also meets 1% of the required energy demand.

Insulation and improvements to the existing fabric have resulted in the achievement of the following U-values:

  • Wall: 0.25 W/m²K
  • Floor: 0.3 W/m²K
  • Roof: 0.163 W/m²K
  • Glazing: 1.4 W/m²K

And the new fabric is insulated such that U-values are:

  • Wall: 0.13 W/m²K
  • Floor: 0.3 W/m²K
  • Roof: 0.15 W/m²K
  • Glazing: 1.4 W/m²K


An Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) A rating for new build areas and B rating for refurbished areas has been achieved.

The key commitments are to be LEAN (reducing energy demand through passive design), CLEAN (high levels of energy efficiency) and GREEN (using low and zero carbon energy sources).

Building In Use

The ECCI has also applied sustainability principles to the use of the completed building.

  • Energy consumption will be closely monitored to allow analysis and reporting.
  • SMART monitors will disseminate the building performance to users and visitors.


The ECCI aspired to have an energy efficient refurbished building that could be used itself as a learning resource. All energy supplies are sub-metered to monitor lighting, small electric, water, heating and cooling across different areas of the building. Specialist software is used to analyse and present the data in suitable manner along with building design information. Post occupancy analysis will also be undertaken.

The development of the Old High School faced challenges due to its historic city centre location but this allowed existing transport networks to be utilised and also encourages walking as many required facilities are nearby.

The renewal of the landscape also improved external spaces and increased the connection of a series of historic courtyards to the surrounding areas and neighbouring University buildings with a new pedestrian route and repair of a public access stair.

The total cost of the ECCI redevelopment is £6.1million.

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ECCI (Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation)


Resource Efficient Scotland supported the preparation and presentation of this case study for the Retrofit Scotland website.

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