Tuesday 25 September 2007

Draft building regulations for new homes

Mr John Gormley TD, Minister for the Environment, Heritage & Local Government has published draft building regulations under Part L of the building code dealing with energy efficiency for homes.

The draft Regulations provide for a dramatic improvement in energy efficiency standards in Irish homes. They are aimed at ensuring that new housing stock in Ireland is built to the highest international standards, where they will be cheaper to run and will have a much lower impact on the environment.

The draft Regulations provide for inter alia -

* A 40 per cent improvement in energy efficiency for new homes in 2008.
* A 40 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions.
* A Mandatory minimum renewable energy requirement in all new homes, such as solar heating systems or biomass systems - e.g. wood pellet
* Mandatory levels of energy-efficient fixed light fittings
* Minimum standards on heating systems to ensure they are highly energy efficient
* Minimum requirements for heating system controls to minimise energy waste through excessive heating
* Air tightness testing, to ensure the homes are not leaking heat excessively
* Guidance on ensuring a minimum quality of workmanship and construction
* Consumer information on the efficient operation of the homeowner's dwelling as a minimum requirement.
* Commitment in the guidelines to review and improve regulations to 60 per cent in 2010, with the ultimate aim of achieving a zero-carbon standard for new houses in the medium to long-term
* New buildings should also be 'future-proofed' to be easily upgraded to higher energy and CO2 standards in the future.

"The draft Regulations which I have published today will change forever the way we deal with the housing stock under the building code. These Regulations are the first dramatic step in the process of achieving zero-carbon housing. The benefit to the consumer in savings on energy costs - as we face into an uncertain future with regard to carbon-based fuel costs - will be a huge benefit to homeowners" - said Minister Gormley. "It will also make a significant contribution to Ireland's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas levels.

"The improvement (40 per cent) is the largest ever to have taken place and the new Regulations also link energy-efficiency improvements to climate change, by requiring a specific reduction in CO2 emissions. New homes will be required to be built to specifications where they produce, on average, 40 per cent less CO2 than current standard new homes" - the Minister added.

Draft Regulations
The draft Regulations have been sent to the European Commission for consideration - as required under Competition law - and are being published on the Department's website for public consultation.

The Minister may choose to amend parts of the Regulations and Guidance following this public consultation process. The Minister intends to sign the regulations in December 07.

There will be a phasing-in period for the Regulations - as recommended by experts who have worked on them - in order to provide time for the industry to adjust. The intention is that the new rules will apply to all new housing planning applications after 1st July 2008. From 1st July 2009, they will apply to all new homes that have not been substantially completed at that stage, regardless of when planning permission was sought.

"These Regulations - when finalised and coupled with Regulations transposing the EU Directive (2002/91/EC) on the Energy Performance of Buildings which became law in December 2006 - provide a very strong base for creating a world-class energy efficient housing stock. They will make a significant contribution towards the implementation of our climate change strategy" - concluded Minister Gormley.

Energy and CO2 savings
The guidelines stipulate that the new homes can achieve these new standards in the following ways -

* Significant improvements in wall, roof and floor insulation levels will be required.
* Some form of renewable energy - such as solar thermal heating - will also be an essential element.
* The use of energy-efficient lighting (in the region of half of all fixed lights) will also reduce energy demand and CO2 levels.
* Heating systems will be required to have thermostats, time controls and, in larger homes, heating zones.
* Boilers will have to perform to minimum efficiency standards.
* Air testing to ensure homes are not leaking excessive heat will also be required.
* The guidelines will also provide a new emphasis on workmanship - and, for the first time, require that vendors provide consumer information to buyers on the operation of the home's heating and energy control systems.

How the minimum standards on renewable energy, lighting, etc, will work
For renewable energy, they will stipulate a minimum amount of energy in kilowatt-hours per square metre of the house. The amount has been set so that a modest solar water-heating system will meet the new requirements.

Similarly, the lighting efficiency standard will be based on a proportion of the floor area of the new house. Standards for boilers will effectively make highly efficient models - like condensing boilers - a basic requirement. Vendors of these new homes will have to provide easy-to-read consumer information on how the systems in the homes operate.

Future improvements
The policy aim of achieving zero-carbon homes in the future is stated for the first time in these new guidelines. It states that a review to improve the regulations further (to 60 per cent above current levels) will be carried out in 2010.

The document states - 'This revision of Part L represents a significant step towards the optimisation of the efficiency of energy use in new dwellings and the minimisation of related CO2 emissions. It is intended that the standards specified here will be tightened further in 2010. The aim is to achieve zero-carbon emissions associated with the operation and use of buildings, at the earliest date practicable'.

The guidelines also advise that new homes should be future-proofed. It states - 'Insofar as the current amendment does not achieve this target, the design and construction of dwellings complying with this amendment to Part L, should be carried out with due regard to the likely need to upgrade the building fabric and fixed services in the future, so as to reduce further carbon emissions associated with the operation and use of these dwellings'.

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