ALL new homes built from 2013 onwards will have to be carbon neutral and emit no harmful greenhouse gases, the Irish Independent has learned.
Solar panels, woodchip burners, wind turbines and triple-glazing windows will become standard features on new housing under ambitious plans outlined by Environment Minister John Gormley yesterday.
Mr Gormley plans to change the building regulations so that "passive" housing becomes the Irish norm. Tougher regulations will also apply to office blocks and other developments.
The current building standards mean that housing must emit 40pc less carbon dioxide and use 40pc less energy to heat than under the old regulations, and these will be upgraded to 60pc by 2010.
But Mr Gormley plans to roll-out the carbon neutral homes within five years, resulting in Ireland having the toughest standards and most environmentally-friendly housing stock in the EU.
"This will be rolled-out as early as practicable," Mr Gormley said. "We're looking at 2010 for the 60pc reduction, I would hope by 2012 or 2013 for all domestic buildings (to be carbon neutral).
"That's my ambition. The targets set are extremely onerous, but we have to step up to the plate. We can create jobs out of this. Those who are in there first will have the most to benefit."
The move comes on the same day that Cabinet colleague Eamon Ryan announced a €9m grant scheme for those developers building energy efficient houses.
Up to 40pc of the cost of installing the necessary technology can be reclaimed from Sustainable Energy Ireland, and the homes would have to be 70pc less polluting than the existing housing stock.
Welcoming the grant aid, the Construction Industry Federation said last night it would help show the cost of making homes more energy-efficient.
But it said a significant amount of work would have to be done before Mr Gormley's zero carbon home became a reality.
"We would have concerns about the availability of products and materials, and it is a huge challenge, so training will be needed," a spokesman said.
"These sorts of standards haven't been widely achieved elsewhere. There are real practicalities that need to be addressed as in many ways we're taking the lead."
Architects, planners, quantity surveyors and construction workers would need training in the new standards, and customers would have to be guaranteed that the technologies being installed would work in the long term.
There is also the issue of the increased costs. Experts believe the cost of upgrading a home to the 40pc more efficient standard currently in place can add up to 10pc to the cost of building. A carbon neutral house is likely to cost significantly more, but over the long-term residents will pay much lower fuel bills.
Also yesterday, the Government called on local authorities to submit proposals to build "greener" homes under a pilot project to promote best practice.
Eighteen houses built in the 1970s in Lusk, Co Dublin, will also be "retro-fitted" with solar panels and other technology to help promote energy efficiency.
Chairman of Sustainable Energy Ireland Brendan Halligan said an "unprecedented" level of mobilisation would be required from the construction industry to meet the targets.