Part L Building Regulations consultation: how it affects you

In the UK, approximately 45 percent of carbon emissions come from buildings. More specifically, these emissions are escaping from our energy inefficient homes. Clearly, something needs to be done about this problem as our legally binding carbon targets creep ever closer. The question is: what will that “something” be?

Many of you may not be aware that the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) currently has a consultation open on changes to the 2013 Building Regulations (Part L) in England. We’d certainly forgive you if you didn’t know about it, considering the sheer amount of consultations you’ve been party to in recent months. However, this consultation is also of importance to you, the UK solar industry player, and we urge you to respond. Here’s why:

Currently, 27 percent of the UK’s carbon emissions leaks from our homes, with around 18 percent from non-domestic buildings. These emissions come from the usual suspects: space heating and cooling, water heating, lighting and other fixed systems. All of these are covered by the Building Regulations, which are currently being updated to be re-launched in October next year.

What are these revisions?

As many of you will have guessed from the opening of this blog, most of the revisions to the Building Regulations (known as Part L) are aimed at increasing energy efficiency in buildings in order to reduce carbon emissions. Almost all of these are aimed at new buildings, with the goal of creating zero carbon homes by 2016 and non-domestic buildings by 2019. (The consultation for existing buildings closed on March 27 in order to bring its timing in line with that of the Green Deal.)

Some of the improvements will be fairly simplistic, such as reducing the building’s emissions by using more efficient appliances and low or zero emission technologies. Some solutions will be more complex, such as using renewable technology or ‘greener’ building materials. This is, of course, where you come in.

Importantly, the consultation focuses on the need to make these changes while avoiding excessive costs on the building industry, which I think you’ll agree, is no easy task in the current economic climate. As you have no doubt experienced, trying to convince a builder that he should install solar panels in order to do his bit for the environment is often a tough job – especially now the feed-in tariff rates have been reduced.

What are the consultation proposals?

The Part L consultation includes several areas, and goes into great detail on all of them. This is, like most of these consultations, based on a very complicated set of factors, each of which has some relevance to the goal of creating low carbon buildings. For the sake of time, and your sanity, I have tried to focus on the areas that are most relevant to you.

First up it’s important to mention that the consultation is seeking responses to two options for the new launch in 2013:

1. Fabric Energy Efficiency Standard (FEES) plus efficient services: where the CO2 limit would be set at a level equivalent to achieving full FEES.

2. ‘Halfway point’: the CO2 limit would be set approximately halfway between the current level and the figures proposed for 2016.

DCLG calculates that the average cost per dwelling of the second option, at £2,866, is 3.6 times more than for the first (£795) and therefore declares the first option, which can be achieved without the use of renewables, as its preferred option.

However, modelling indicates that option one would achieve an aggregate 8 percent reduction in CO2 emissions compared with the current 2010 standards while option two would result in a much larger 26 percent aggregate reduction in CO2 emissions compared with 2010. So you basically pay for what you achieve.

While leaning towards option one, DCLG does point out that if energy efficiency standard were set at the less demanding interim levels of 43 and 52kWh/m2/year, builders would have the flexibility to achieve the emissions either by adopting the full FEES or through the use of renewables – which is of course better news.

Yet taking all of that into consideration, you may be interested to know that DCLG’s cost modelling uses out-of-date PV costs as a proxy to model the renewables contribution and therefore grossly overestimates the cost of mitigating carbon through the use of PV.

Option two (which just happens to be the renewable-friendly choice) is therefore the most sensible one to go for. Further, even if this option is more expensive something needs to be done – and fast, if we are to move anywhere near the 2016 carbon compliance limits we’re currently striving for.

Fuel Factors

These have been used in Building Regulations since 2006 to ensure that dwellings without access to mains gas (and are therefore required to use more carbon-intensive fuels), are not required to compensate by achieving much tighter standards in terms of the way the home is constructed.  The current consultation leaves room for fuel factors to be removed, or at least reduced, and therefore clears the path for renewable technologies to step in and save the day.

Other areas of importance

The consultation covers a number of other issues of relevance to renewable energy, including the 2016 standards, compliance and performance, local authority requirements, the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive and education and training. I won’t go into all of these in great detail, as you’re welcome to read the ~90-page report yourself, but a summary of the most important elements follows:

2016 standards

Our Government has welcomed energy efficiency and carbon compliance standards for dwellings by 2016 – yet it has not committed to these and has yet to decide whether a similar approach should be adopted for non-domestic buildings. Critically for the renewables sector the consultation states that “further work is needed to understand where the appropriate boundary between on-site and off-site solutions lies,” at least for non-domestic buildings.  There remains a danger that limits for onsite emissions will be relaxed, with more abatement accounted for through offsite allowable solutions.

Compliance and performance

There is also evidence of significant discrepancies between the calculated and as-built performance of buildings, as well as the level of compliance with Building Regulations.  The consultation aims to tackle these issues through the introduction of an enabling framework to incentivise house builders to develop and adopt quality processes, although no clear path has been forged.

Code for Sustainable Homes

This Code is due for revision in 2013 to bring it up-to-date with the changing policy background, and in particular to align it with the developing zero carbon homes policy. Government intends to consult on a revised Code in spring 2012, and to publish a final version alongside the final 2013 Part L changes.

Energy Performance of Buildings Directive

The consultation argues that the Government’s proposals meet the requirements of the recast Energy Performance of Buildings Directive.  To meet the transposition requirements in Article 28 of the Directive, the regulations will be amended by July 2012. 

So what does all this mean?

Well, I think after reading all of that information you’ll agree that there’s a lot in the 2013 Building Regulations (Part L) in England consultation that directly affects what you do on a daily basis. Having struggled with other policy amendments (at the renewables end) we strongly urge you to take a look at this consultation and respond to the areas that you think are important by April 27. You can read through the entire thing here, or simply respond by visiting here.