A Nearly Zero Energy Future – The Construction sector jumps on board with the fight against climate change

7 July 2020

The construction sector is working towards playing its part in the fight against climate change. The European Union (Energy Performance of Buildings) Regulations1 which came into operation on 1 November 2019 aims to achieve a Nearly Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB) rating for new homes and to have a typical Building Energy Rating (BER) of A2 compared with a current rating for new builds of A3.

In addition, it is proposed that new homes will be 70% more energy efficient and emit 70% less carbon dioxide than 2005 performance levels. This will mean that a typical A-rated 3-bedroom semi-detached house is likely to be approximately €800 a year cheaper to heat than a similar house built before 2005. The Regulations also require that 20% of the total energy use of buildings be sourced from renewables and that all new homes be NZEB by 31 December 2020. In addition, for major renovations to existing dwellings, the Regulations aim to ensure the energy performance of the building or the renovation is upgraded to meet the minimum energy performance requirements of the Regulations, in so far as this is technically, functionally and economically feasible.

Compliance with the Regulations is mandatory. However, arguments may be raised that compliance with the Regulations is not “technically, functionally or economically” feasible, particularly for older unlisted buildings.

What do you need to know?

  • The Regulations apply to works in connection with the design and construction of a new dwelling and to works to an existing dwelling which undergoes a major renovation;
  • “Nearly Zero Energy Buildings” means a building that has a very high energy performance and the nearly zero or very low amount of energy required should be covered to a significant extent by energy from renewable sources, including energy from renewable sources produced on-site or nearby.
  • The Regulations aim to make all new residential dwellings 70% more energy efficient and emit 70% less carbon dioxide than 2005 performance levels. This typically corresponds to an A3 energy rating.
  • The Regulations apply to both new builds and existing buildings and to both domestic and non-domestic buildings. National monuments and other protected structures (within the Planning and Development Act 2000) are exempt from the Regulations. Compliance with the new standard lies with the owner of the building and the design team members.
  • The commencement date is 1 November 2019, but the previous arrangements will apply if planning permission was lodged before 31 October 2019.

Domestic buildings

For new dwellings, the requirements shall be met by:

  • providing that the energy performance of the building is such as to limit the calculated primary energy consumption and related carbon dioxide (CO2) to that of a nearly zero energy building within the meaning of the Directive2;
  • providing that the nearly zero or very low amount of energy required is covered to a very significant extent by energy from renewable sources, including energy from renewable sources produced on-site or nearby;
  • limiting the heat loss and, where appropriate, availing of heat gain through the fabric of the building;
  • providing and commissioning energy efficient space and water heating systems with efficient heat sources and effective controls;
  • providing that all oil and gas fired boilers shall meet a minimum seasonal efficiency of 90%; and
  • providing to the owner sufficient information about the building, the fixed building services, their controls and their maintenance requirements so that the building can be operated using no more fuel and energy than is reasonable.

For existing dwellings, the requirements shall be met by:

  • limiting heat loss and, where appropriate, availing of heat gain through the fabric of the building;
  • controlling the output of the space heating and hot water systems;
  • limiting the heat loss from the pipes, ducts and vessels used for the transport or storage of heated water or air; and
  • providing that all oil and gas fired boilers installed as replacements in existing dwellings meet a minimum seasonal efficiency of 90% where practicable.

Non-domestic buildings

For new build non-domestic buildings, the Regulations require:

  • an equivalent to a 60% improvement in energy performance on the 2008 Building Regulations. This means an improved energy performance for the fabric, services and lighting specification; and
  • a mandatory requirement for renewable sources to provide 20% of the primary energy use of the building. However, there is flexibility where the building is more energy efficient than the regulations.For major renovations to existing buildings, the Regulations require that the building is brought up to “cost optimal level”. The minimum energy performance requirement of the dwelling or renovation is upgraded to meet the cost optimal level of energy performance in so far as this is technically, functionally and economically feasible.

This can be achieved by upgrading:

  • the heating System more than 15 years old;
  •  the cooling and ventilation systems more than 15 years old; and
  • lighting more than 15 years old.All works must comply with the Building Regulations and the Building Control Regulations.

What action should be taken to ensure future compliance?

  • A BER assessor should be brought into a project at the earliest possible phase to work collaboratively with the design team to prepare a design that will meet the necessary standards.
  • Assessments can be carried out by a BER assessor using the software available for both domestic (Domestic Energy Assessment Procedure (DEAP)) and non-domestic buildings (Non-Domestic Energy Assessment Procedure (NEAP)). Both the DEAP and NEAP have been updated to demonstrate compliance with the Regulations.
  • The early design stage assessments by the BER assessor will inform the final design and together with the design team, will assist in achieving the most robust design solution.
  • The BER assessor will issue a Part L Compliance Report using the relevant software to ensure the requirements of the Regulations are properly implemented into the design.
  • A failure to meet the new requirements set out in the NZEB Standard may pose problems for achieving compliance on completion. Therefore, it is recommended that a BER assessor is engaged at the outset, to ensure that the final design is in compliance with the Regulations.

Comment

The question of whether it is feasible to comply with the new requirements when undertaking a major renovation is somewhat tricky. It will be difficult for renovators to bring energy ratings of older unlisted dwellings up to a BER B2 rating. The cost of such renovations would be significant, and it is unlikely that such costs would ever be recovered fully in the form of energy savings.

There has been no specific guidance provided by the Law Society Conveyancing Committee as of yet and we will be keeping an eye out for any developments on this aspect.

Further detailed information regarding the Regulations can be found in the Technical Guidance Document.

Further information on the DEAP and NEAP software can be found on the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland’s web page.

For further information please contact Rebecca O’Mahony, Associate or another member of the Property & Construction team at Eugene F Collins.

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1 The European Union (Energy Performance of Buildings) Regulations 2019 and the European Union (Energy Performance of Buildings) (No 2) Regulations 2019 (amending Part L of the Building Regulations 1997-2020)
2 Directive 2010/31/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 May 2010 on the energy performance of buildings.

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