Irish government in row over passivhaus eco building regulations

Local authority pushes for standard with high levels of insulation and ventilation, but Irish government says measure would slow construction of new homes

The Guardian, 17 June, 2015

The Irish government is fighting plans by a local authority in Dublin to make the super energy-efficient passivhaus standard mandatory for new buildings.

In a submission to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown county council, the Department of Environment said introducing the standard would slow the construction of new homes.

Ireland’s building industry is experiencing a tentative recovery for the first time since the country’s property bubble began to collapse in 2007. The government is eager to accelerate house building in the capital, which has experienced a serious housing shortage.

The passivhaus standard, developed by European physicists in the 1990s, requires high levels of insulation, draught-proofing and ventilation. It is designed to eliminate the need for traditional central heating systems and to drastically cut carbon emissions.

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Lobbying delays publication of pollution data on construction materials

Passive House Plus, 21 March 2013

Pressure from sectors of the building materials industry last November forced a delay in the publication of a database detailing the carbon footprint of building materials in Ireland, Passive House Plus can reveal.

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland had initially been due to publish the document on its website as part of a consultation launched at a meeting with industry representatives in Dublin on 27 November, 2012. The Embodied Energy and Carbon Measurement Methodology and Database lists the carbon footprint of building materials commonly used in Ireland.

But following pressure from representatives of the building materials industry at the meeting, SEAI delayed publication and announced a closed industry-only consultation, which ended on 15 February.

A full public consultation is expected to follow, but speaking to Passive House Plus this week, SEAI's Kevin O'Rourke had no definite news on when this will be announced. He said the authority is still assessing submissions received from the industry.

At the 27 November meeting, some representatives of the building materials industry expressed concern over plans to put the database online before manufacturers and suppliers had an opportunity to analyse it.

Speaking at the meeting in a personal capacity, Colm Bannon, chair of the Cement Manufacturers Ireland environment committee said it was "quite extraordinary" that here had been no consultation with industry before the database was due to be posted online.

Mark McAuley of the Building Materials Federation, a division of IBEC, said it was unsurprising manufacturers were unhappy with the data being published before they had seen it.

Speaking later to Passive House Plus, he said both the BMF and companies it represents had since made submissions to the industry-only consultation.

"I'm hoping that [SEAI] plan to deal comprehensively with those submissions before moving on to a public consultation," he said. "I think what's required are a couple of face to face meetings with certain parts of the industry to talk about the accuracy of some of the data and some of the ways in which it's presented."

Some of the data, in his view, contains minor errors. "We don't have too many issues with it," he added. "Generally the industry has made a lot of progress in lowering the carbon footprint of its products."

He called for greater focus on life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions rather than just those associated with manufacturing, and said it would have been preferable if the database had been published alongside a method for assessing a building's carbon footprint over its whole life cycle. He said that in the absence of such a tool, the database was being launched without a context.

Other industry representatives suggested that the industry consultation period be at least six months, but SEAI did not bow to this request.

Speaking at the meeting in a personal capacity, architect Simon McGuinness said that architectural designers need good quality data on the carbon footprint of building materials. "Having an independent source of that data beyond the manufacturers' chosen figures is very important to us, so we would encourage you to be as robust as you need to be to ensure the integrity of the database," he said.

SEAI's Kevin O'Rourke stressed at the event that the database was still in development. He said it was far easier for stakeholders to react to a draft than to a blank sheet of paper. He added that the document had been through a peer review process.

However, industry figures expressed concern that even if the database was published in draft form on the SEAI website, architects and specifiers would start to use it to select products.

Following the meeting, O'Rourke sent an email to those present in which he announced a closed industry consultation. He wrote that any national assessment of embodied carbon and energy would attract "legitimate sensitivities in particular from the building materials sector".

He added that the database would prove more effective if manufacturers and suppliers were given an opportunity for detailed consideration prior to a full public consultation.

In a later email to Passive House Plus, O'Rourke acknowledged that there had been no opportunity for industry to engage with the database in detail before the meeting.

He said the decision to introduce a closed industry consultation period "had not been determined or influenced by any single industry or sectoral interest". He added: "The voices seeking a facility for such a phase of industry consultation included the representative body within IBEC for a cross section of building materials manufacturers and suppliers and a representative for the timber frame and insulation industry."

The Embodied Energy and Carbon Measurement Methodology and Database was prepared by the construction consultancy Davis Langdon and by environmental consultants Sustain, whose associate principal Craig Jones is an international authority on the carbon footprint of building materials. Speaking at the meeting, the consultants said they had been through a detailed and robust process to develop the data.

Kevin O'Rourke said the consultants had been "scientific, transparent and objective" and had followed best international practice.

The database lists the embodied greenhouse gas emissons of building materials in terms of their 'CO2 equivalent', which expresses the global warming potential of all embodied greenhouse gases by comparing it to the impact of carbon dioxide. The project also aims to set out a method for determining the embodied energy and carbon of building materials in Ireland, and a procedure for how manufactures can have data for their products listed.

The initial database contains default data for generic categories of building materials, but it is expected that manufacturers will be able to have data for their specific products and brands verified and added.

Priory Hall is not an exception

Priory Hall is no exception — a history of poor regulation and enforcement has left many of us living in shoddy homes, argues Lenny Antonelli

 Village magazine, May 2012

The government has launched a public consultation on building control following the high profile evacuation of the Priory Hall development in north Dublin due to fire safety defects.

But the proposed changes are nothing more than a paper exercise that will do little to boost the number of on site building inspections.

The new rules demand the submission of "certificates of compliance" confirming a project meets the legal requirements of the building regulations. Drawings showing how a building complies will also have to be lodged. But it speaks volumes that such basic measures aren't already in place.

Following Priory Hall, environment minister Phil Hogan said the fact Dublin City Council took the case to court "is a clear indication the Building Control Act is robust" (1). But if the act was robust, 240 people wouldn't have moved into a faulty building. And the government wouldn't be fixing the act six months later.

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Half of new homes fail energy efficiency rules

By Lenny Antonelli & Jeff Colley

The Sunday Times (Irish edition), 20 May, 2012

More than half of new Irish homes fail to meet energy efficiency and carbon emissions regulations, according to new figures. The number of new homes meeting the rules has also declined dramatically since 2005, according to data released by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland.

The figures show 50% of homes fail to meet energy performance rules, 40% fail to meet carbon emission standards, and 39% don't generate enough renewable energy to meet regulations.

The data, which contains a record of the energy performance of every new home given a building energy rating (BER) assessment, was obtained by the green building magazine Construct Ireland.

Of the 3,595 BER assessments carried out on houses built to the 2008 version of Part L of the building regulations, which deals with insulation and energy, 1,946 — or 54% — fail at least one of the three main standards.

This marked a dramatic increase from the 21% of homes built to the 2005 regulations that failed to meet its main requirements. Part L was updated again last far, but few homes have been built to this new version.

Environment minister Phil Hogan recently published a new draft Building Control Act following the high profile evacuation of the Priory Hall development in north Dublin due to fire safety defects. The new rules require the submission of "certificates of compliance" for the design and construction of buildings.

However in a lengthy submission former president of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland Eoin O'Cofaigh heavily criticised the proposals. He said the regulations would "criminalise" architects for the failure of local authorities to inspect buildings, and for the failure of other contractors on site. Local authorities currently have a target to inspect just 12-15% of new buildings.

Mr O'Cofaigh, a former member for the Building Regulations Advisory Body, said the proposals were the "21st century equivalent of hanging children for stealing sheep."

Last year Construct Irelandrevealed that an unpublished survey of Irish housing built between 1997 and 2002 commissioned by the SEAI found that none of the houses examined complied fully with energy efficiency regulations. Over 90% of of homes with oil boilers failed to comply with rules on reducing the risk of fire spread and pollution from oil tanks, while over 40% failed to meet ventilation standards.

Infra red photography of housing conducted as part of the survey found that 19 out of 20 houses had gaps in insulation, in contravention of the regulations, that were not revealed by basic visual inspections. This suggest the number of homes failing to meet insulation standards today could be higher than the latest SEAI data indicates, as BER assessors typically assume on-paper specifications are correct if they can't access insulation.

SEAI is planning to release a public research tool to enable users to study the BER data it has collected. The next issue of Construct Ireland magazine will contain further analysis of the latest figures. The Department of Environment did not respond to a request for comment from The Sunday Times in time for print.

This is the original version of the story we submitted as opposed to the final version that appeared in the Sunday Times, as their edit is not available online.