Thursday 17 January 2008

Future proof homes and communities

New laws mean that buildings will have to be more energy efficient and a conference will tell those in the industry how to make buildings comply, writes Emma Cullinan.

A spate of energy requirements is affecting property owners as legislation in this area takes hold.

There are two main stipulations: one which says property owners must provide a BER (Building Energy Rating) certificate when they sell up, to show just how energy efficient - or not - the property is, while a change to the Building Regulations requires properties to be 40 per cent more energy efficient and produce less C02 than they did in 2005, to comply with Building Regs then.

This will apply to new housing going for planning permission after this July and later on it will apply to existing buildings.

In a few years' time the government will look at stretching the requirements to a 60 per cent improvement.

A number of studies have found that achieving the 40 per cent improvement can be done a number of ways and won't require a substantial change in the way we build, whereas a 60 per cent improvement would.

When it comes to creating more energy efficient buildings the weak points tend to be the quality of workmanship: airtight windows, for instance, can be let down by being badly fitted and having gaps beside them.

"There is no point in having the Rolls Royce of windows if they are not put in well, because that can cause a lot of leakage," says Sarah Neary of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, who will be discussing the new legislation at the Energy Efficiency for Sustainable Communities conference in Dublin on January 28th.

The ways in which people can up their energy ratings will include improving wall, roof and floor insulation, she says, as well as perhaps adding in renewable energy, such as solar panels, and making a building more airtight, with the help, for instance, of high performance windows.

While having a completely airtight home usually requires mechanical ventilation, to avoid damp problems, it is possible to achieve a certain airtightness level with natural ventilation. "You just have to design in the ventilation rather than letting it happen by itself," says Neary.

Other areas where improvements can be made include low-energy lighting and better boilers. In fact, says Neary, anyone replacing a boiler will be required to have a much more efficient one, such as a condensing boiler that captures waste heat and reuses it. "Regulations will require boilers to have an 85 per cent efficiency," she says.

The DoEHLG has been involved in a number of eco-friendly social housing projects, including one in York Street, in the centre of Dublin, which will be presented at the conference, as will the Elm Park development by Bucholz McEvoy Architects, which is privately funded.

This low energy, high density €310 million development includes a crèche, private hospital, offices, apartments, senior citizen housing, and a restaurant.

The entire scheme has a combined heat and power generation system powered by woodchips, with electricity generated on site and hot water created as a by-product.

The orientation and depth of the office buildings has been designed to make the most of natural ventilation and light.

Thin atria to the sides of the office blocks accommodate gardens that rise through the offices providing stack-effect ventilation (this sucks up air through a building) to create a natural air flow.

The apartments are set along a north-south axis with the bedrooms on the east side getting the morning sun and the living areas on the west side basking in the afternoons and evenings. These apartments will have enclosed terraces - or sky conservatories - with all sorts of ventilators to create various forces of air-flow.

On site facilities, such as the crèche, medical centre and restaurant, are the types of elements needed to make a scheme sustainable and future proof, especially outside large towns. Architect Martin Colreavy of the DoEHLG, who has a masters in urban design, will be explaining how to design better neighbourhoods, that are socially, environmentally and economically sustainable.

This has been such a contentious area, with the plethora of home-only estates on the edges of towns with no community facilities, shops and medical centres. "We can future-proof our cities and towns against unsustainable development," says Colreavy.

The DoEHLG is keen that local authorities lead by example, says Aidan O'Connor, of the DoEHLG, who is co-chairing the conference with architect Toal Ó Muiré, "and you can already see how that has happened in new government offices around the country.

"We are looking for consolidated urban forms, with housing, schools and commercial and medical facilities on the one site, cutting down the need for transport. The focus needs to be on lifestyle, with people walking to school, cycling to work and using public transport.

"There is no point in having a 4x4 parked outside a home that is full of eco-gadgets."

The Energy Efficiency for Sustainable Communities conference will be held at Dublin Castle on Monday, January 28th.

A tour of sustainable buildings, including Elm Park, Hanover Quay, York Street and the Green Building, will run the day before. Contact Mary Bruton at 01-240 3640, or

In October there will be a PLEA (Passive and Low Energy Architecture) conference at UCD called Towards Low Energy Building. Architects and researchers who wish to present at the conference should send abstracts on

The Irish Times

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