It’s been an amazing last few days as we have all got on board with the changes to the new Part L 2013 for England due to go live April 6th. In particular, it is with great excitement we welcome one particular change to how domestic NEW builds achieve compliance and that is the introduction of a compulsory metric for the performance of the building fabric as part of SAP (TFEE). The introduction of this new metric is a step towards the 2016 target that all newly built dwellings should be net zero carbon.  This means new buildings after 2016 will not add further to CO² emissions.

In the midst of focusing on the changes to the new Part L 2013, I just wanted to pause from all the excitement, take a step back and think about the other half of the Part L story.  The part that’s not changing and that’s energy efficiency measures for EXISTING domestic and non-domestic buildings. This includes our homes, work places and social venues, childcare centres and public buildings to name but a few. (Wales aside, they are introducing their own compliance guidelines for the conservation of fuel and power to include existing buildings which are called Part L 2014 Wales due to go live 31st July).

Carbon Emissions

The Climate change Act 2008 requires that by 2050 UK’s annual Carbon Dioxide emissions are reduced by 80% compared to 1990 levels.  It is understood that home energy use is responsible for over 25% of UK’s CO² emissions and whilst the Government’s commitment to net zero carbon target for 2016 seems to be on course, the 2050 target presents the nagging question ‘Should we be improving the energy performance of existing dwellings as well as new dwellings to achieve the required 80% cut in CO² emissions across the entire housing stock?’

Having said this and I don’t want to spoil the party,  there’s an undeniable fact that homes built before 2016 will still exist in 2050 and so will be the subject of a refurbishment project to further improve the standard of energy efficiency in order to meet the 2050 target of 80% reduced CO² emissions. 

Even more reason to support the fabric first approach in today’s designs, do that little bit more today to protect tomorrow and why we welcome the new compulsory target fabric energy efficiency metric in SAP.

So having made the point ‘what about existing dwellings, they’re relevant too?’ what can we do, as professionals in the industry, to support the Government’s long term goal of an 80% reduction in CO² emissions in dwellings? 

ECO and Green Deal

Well the good news is the consultation document on the future of ECO (the Energy Company Obligation) was published 5th March and will run until 16th April. Its goal is to reduce pressures on consumer bills and provide value for money to consumers.  In doing so, it will tackle fuel poverty, support the development of sustainable energy efficiency supply chain and improve energy efficiency of our housing stock.  This will hopefully make funding more simple and supply more accessible.

So while the officials work to provide more certainty to ECO and the green deal, we can try to better understand and become more familiar with what reducing CO² emissions look like in our existing homes.  How do we approach a sustainable refurbishment project and translate the reduction in CO² emissions into improvements around the house which will mean less energy consumption and lower energy bills?

Fabric First

Adopting a fabric first whole house approach is a really good place to start. This allows for detailed planning and careful preparation when considering how to form the thermal envelope of a building. Key areas for design consideration when adopting a fabric first approach include

  • Building fabric U-values of floors, walls and roofs
  • U-values of windows and doors
  • Thermal bridging
  • Air Tightness
  • Thermal Mass

Knowing when…

…to improve the energy efficiency of the building is key. Refurbishment projects can be costly so may occur once or twice in a 20 year period.  With this in mind it makes sense to take every opportunity where practical to achieve the best possible level of thermal upgrading during a refurbishment. Timely opportunities include having a new kitchen fitted, an extension built, re-roofing or re-plastering are but a few.

There are other positive measures that can be taken to improve the CO² emissions of a building such as introducing a more efficient boiler for hot water and heating and using energy efficient light bulbs to name but a few but these are not directly linked to the building envelope and the fabric.  Having a fantastically efficient boiler is brilliant but if the fabric is poorly insulated all that lovely warmth will escape meaning further energy consumption.

We can only wait to see how the other half of the Part L story unfolds in the future. It’s no secret that a significant portion of the existing housing stock has poor levels of insulation and airtightness which increase heating demand and energy consumption. Adopting a fabric first approach for the whole of the building when planning a sustainable refurbishment project will minimise heat loss through the building envelope.  This in return will reduce the heating demand and energy consumption of the property which in turn again will have a favourable impact on the reduction of CO² emissions and the target set for 2050.

For more information on the UK Building Regulations visit the Insulating Britain website.