The downturn has put building materials giant Wolseley in the press for all the wrong reasons.

The name behind key wholesaler brands such as Plumb Center, Pipe Center, Climate Center and Electric Center hit the headlines with cost-cutting measures that have seen the loss of 6000 jobs worldwide, including that of UK managing director Nigel Sibley.

Sadly, if it hadn’t been for the unexpected market deterioration, Wolseley would have been grabbing the column inches for all the right reasons. This summer saw the opening of its new £3.2m Sustainable Building Center in Leamington Spa, a must-visit for any m&e contractor that wants to know his solar tubes from his photovoltaic panels.

This is just the sort of demonstration project that the industry has been lacking. Contractors looking to take the plunge with renewables are demanding evidence to back up manufacturers’ claims. Wolseley has spent three years validating suppliers’ data and the centre plays host to detailed information on performance, installation and operation.

Visitors can take a guided tour of the various technologies, many of which are installed in the building. Touch screen units allow you to request more information and the centre shows visitors how systems such as photovoltaics and solar water heaters are performing and how much energy and carbon they have saved.

Of course, there is more to sustainability than solar and wind power. Contractors need to focus on the basics first and intelligent building control protocols such as KNX can facilitate big energy savings (pages 31-33). With fuel costs soaring, there has never been a better time to pitch these systems to clients.