11 April 2017
In the following post by ‘Mike Morris “Nearly Zero Energy – Ireland’s Next Construction Scandal” 5th April 2017, the author examines the dangers of progressing towards nZeb buildings without the appropriate training or understanding of the issues involved. Increasing insulation levels, making buildings more airtight to reduce energy loss must be accompanied by appropriate vevntilation strategies or else ‘sick’ buildings will be the result. Link to full article “Nearly Zero Energy – Ireland’s Next Construction Scandal”. Extract:
Nearly Zero Energy – Ireland’s Next Construction Scandal
On the 20th January 2017 Simon Coveney signed S.I. 4/2017. This law is now the endgame for Ireland’s drive towards low-energy buildings, as it effectively kicks off the drive towards Nearly-Zero Energy Buildings. The Minister also began a public consultation on the 24th March, with the purpose of reviewing Ireland’s energy-efficiency regulations.
This programme is ambitious, well-intentioned and – in many ways – laudable. It is also, almost certainly, disastrous…
Insulation is complicated. And the problem isn’t just that the industry has not kept pace; the problem is that the various regulatory texts haven’t kept up either. The Homebond Manual, once a decent bible for construction, still has 1990s-esque cavity wall details that should have been junked a decade ago. The SEAI grant scheme will only pay out for internal insulation details that are technically outmoded and a condensation risk. The government’s own “Acceptable Construction Details” still include internal insulation on hollow block walls – a terrible form of construction that should quite simply be banned – but they don’t include details for a door threshold or a rooflight.
In other words, “the industry hasn’t caught up” is minimising the problem. The people who are supposed to be advising and regulating the industry haven’t caught up and, if anything, some sections of the industry are ahead of them.
This problem didn’t occur when Minister Coveney signed the act into effect. It occurred over a decade ago. Start points are always a little too neat, but 2005 is as good a place as any…
ERs [Energy Ratings] are only ever supposed to be thumbnail views on how energy-efficient a house is, they aren’t meant to be comprehensive predictions of how much energy you will use per annum. A BER is only meant to let a buyer or renter see that a house is F-rated and think “uh-oh, my bills will be high.”
The problem is that, having decided on these not-at-all researched, lick-a-finger-and-stick-it-in-the-air figures, the state also appear to have decided they are real…
What I find even more worrying, and disappointing, is that we don’t hear many voices within construction who see this complexity as a particular problem. It’s well-known that most architects can no longer calculate whether a house complies with Part L or not, but this is dismissed with platitudes about “upskilling.” Essentially, we’re asked to believe this complexity is necessary: the pre-2005 system was far too crude, this is a much more accurate assessment, and if some people find it too complicated that’s tough – there’s no alternative. And yet I’ve never seen any substantiation of this viewpoint, and Part B – that’s the fire regulations – have managed to take the complexity of fire engineering and turn it into a series of laborious, but relatively simple rules…
It isn’t just that the complexity of the current regulations is not particularly necessary; the compliance model is actually more arbitrary than a range of value limits would be. The structure penalises apartments in particular, and that’s particularly noteworthy given the wealth of new stories about apartments being currently too expensive for developers to build².
Oh yes, and in case you’re wondering – no, the move to Nearly Zero Energy Buildings won’t improve this situation. Predictably, it will make it worse….
The Building Regulations are supposed to be about climate change and energy security, not about ensuring that wealthy people can keep their houses and 20°C all day, all year round. We’re back where we were with the Reference Dwelling and EPC: a hugely complicated assessment model that actually doesn’t deliver an accurate solution. Or if you prefer, a mess…
The developers want a profit; the builders want to get it done and move on to the next thing; the architects want it to work well and look nice; the structural engineers want it to stand up. If you make it easy for these people to comply with the law, they will do it; if you give them simple rules to follow, and the resources to help them follow the rules, they’ll follow them. On the other hand, If you make laws needlessly complicated, if you drive the industry towards the use of specialists, if you utter mealy-mouthed aspirations about “upskilling the industry” while you make regulations ever-more convoluted – well, then you simply end up with a world of non-compliance. You’ll have an industry that doesn’t know how to follow the regulations, and a general public who can’t possibly hold them to account. The regulatory bodies are behaving like a Dickensian factory-owner, forcing the smallest children to carry heavier and heavier loads, outwardly ignoring their protests, already preparing to point the finger of blame at those children when they inevitably collapse.
That’s a lot to do in two years. But the alternative is to continue down the road we’re on now; the result will be bad environments, bad buildings, and millions wasted when defective insulation is removed from defective walls to reveal blockwork black with mould.
A lot of this has already gone wrong, and there’s only two years to put it right.
Other posts of interest: