AKC News // Greens unveil plans for more energy efficient homes

Source: The Irish Times
Tim O'Brien & Mark Hennessy

Radical new proposals to ensure new homes are at least 40 per cent more energy efficient by next year, with a similar level of reduction in CO2 emissions, were unveiled by Green Party Ministers John Gormley and Eamon Ryan yesterday.

The Draft Building Regulations also propose that all new homes will incorporate at least a minimum level of renewable energy such as solar power or biomass heating.

The construction industry has said the proposals will add €15,000 to the price of a new home. It warned that the industry did "not have the technical capacity" to put the changes in place by next year.

The Construction Industry Federation said it had no issues with the regulations, but called for the timescale for their implementation to be reviewed.

Under the draft regulations all new houses and apartments will have to have significant improvements in wall, roof and floor insulation. Some form of renewable energy will have to be included, such as solar thermal heating or wood-pellet burners. The guidelines stipulate a minimum amount of energy in kilowatt-hours per square metre of the home.

In larger homes there will be a requirement for heating systems to have heating zones, as well as thermostats and time controls. Homes will also have to be tested for "air tightness" to ensure they are not leaking too much heat. The use of energy-efficient lighting - up to half of all fixed lights - will be mandatory .

An ambitious timetable for the implementation of the measures has been set, with the regulations coming into law in January, followed by a six-month period of "phasing-in" to allow the industry to upskill.

From July 2008, the regulations will automatically apply to all new planning applications.

In order to avoid stockpiled planning permissions not being subject to the requirement in future years, the draft regulations envisage a cut-off point of July 2009. From that time homes depending on historic planning permissions will have to be substantially complete to avail of an exemption.

To give the industry time to acquire the necessary skills it is proposed that Fás, in conjunction with Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI), will offer nationally-accredited training in renewable technologies from next month.

SEI and Action Renewables have also set up a renewable energy installers' academy.

Speaking in Co Wicklow, Mr Gormley said the reaction to the new regulations had been "enthusiastic". Department of Environment officials had "worked around the clock" to draft them.

However, the Minister for the Environment said the construction industry wanted assurances that the rules would be operated "consistently".

"They need to know in advance what the requirements are.

"They know that we are living in a changed world, and that there are new requirements and that there is a new Government."

He was speaking during a two-day meeting of Green Party Ministers, Oireachtas members, councillors and party staff near Aughrim, Co Wicklow.

Questioned about the costs created by tougher energy standards, Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources Eamon Ryan said: "This is the cheapest way of going.

"It is going to be very expensive to retro-fit the existing housing stock. Putting it in at the beginning is cheaper in the long term."

The new rules could encourage new house sales, he said, "at a time when there is concern about new housing activity".

"There are advantages to being able to say that they are building A1 grades."

Date : 22-09-2007