The government is busy legislating to make contractors build eco-houses and homeowners improve existing stock. Thomas Lane takes a look at what regulations are already in place, and what may be coming up

Coming up

Part L of the Building Regulations

The consultation on the 2010 version of Part L, which deals with energy use, was imminent as this supplement went to press. The last two revisions of Part L in 2002 and 2006 caused big problems for the industry, so this time around the government wants to avoid any nasty surprises and the indications are that the 2010 version should be much easier to deal with. Revisions will correspond with the standards set out in the Code for Sustainable Homes, so expect a 25% cut in carbon emissions from homes, which will broadly apply to most other buildings too.

The good news is that the calculation methodology, which caused so many problems in 2006, will mostly stay the same although there will be changes to SAP, the tool used for calculating compliance for dwellings. The consultation has just been published and SAP is now a tool more appropriate for the delivery of low-carbon homes. For example, it now gives more credit to thermal mass, takes more account of seasonal changes which affect energy use and the hot water calculation tool has been refined.

Expect proposals to change the trigger point for “consequential improvements” to existing buildings that are being extended, or having changes made to the building services. This requires energy efficiency improvements to the rest of the building, if practical and economically feasible, and currently applies to non-dwellings over 1,000m2.

With the government focusing increasingly on the existing stock, the trigger point will almost certainly be extended to include dwellings, with homeowners expected to spend 10% of the extension cost on upgrading the energy performance of the existing home. This was proposed in the last Part L consultation but the government decided not to proceed. Conservatories may also be regulated by Part L for the first time.

Part F, which deals with ventilation, is linked to Part L so the consultation will be published at the same time.

Part G of the Building Regulations

The approved document, called Sanitation, Hot Water Safety and Water Efficiency, is due to be published imminently, and will take effect from October this year. It was meant to take effect from this April but was delayed due to changes to the water use calculation tool used in the code. The consultation paper sets out a whole-house use of 125 litres of water per person per day, the minimum provision in the code. However, this limit is understood to be under review as it is difficult to achieve. The consultation also defines where non-drinkable water can be used in homes and sets outs rules on water storage to make installing rainwater and greywater systems easier. The approved documents may also include regulations making thermostatic valves and mixer taps compulsory for baths, to mitigate the risk of children being scalded by hot water.

Code for sustainable buildings

The government has set a target of making all buildings zero carbon by 2019 but there is no equivalent to the Code for Sustainable Homes to help non-dwellings achieve this. The UK Green Building Council (UK-GBC) wants a Code for Sustainable Buildings that covers all new and existing non-dwellings and in 2007 published a report showing it was feasible to make all new non-dwellings zero carbon by 2020.

The UK-GBC published a broad outline of what it thinks should be in a Code for Sustainable Buildings in March this year. This calls for a series of carbon reduction, waste and water targets to 2019. All other regulation on making buildings more sustainable should dovetail with the code. The UK-GBC is setting up a working group with government representatives. Housing minister Margaret Beckett has welcomed the initiative.

Definition of zero carbon

When the Code for Sustainable Homes was launched, it only allowed energy needed to power the home to be provided via a private wire. The industry complained that this was too inflexible because, in many situations, supplying the power is very expensive. The government target of making all buildings zero carbon by 2019 is made almost impossible by the need to provide power for energy-intensive processes in many buildings.

This consultation on the definition of zero carbon is a bid to redefine zero carbon and proposes that in some circumstances off-site renewable energy supply should count towards the definition of a zero-carbon building. The consultation sets out a hierarchy of preference, proposed by the UK-GBC. Under the hierarchy, making the building as energy efficient as possible is the first step, followed by meeting a minimum level of carbon emissions using on-site solutions. The third stage in this hierarchy allows the remaining emissions to be met using off-site solutions. Called “allowable solutions”, this can include investing in an off-site wind farm, exporting heat from a CHP plant to nearby homes or making existing buildings more energy efficient.

The consultation also asks what percentage of carbon emissions should be met from on-site solutions and recognises that a level of 70% for space heating and hot water is particularly “interesting” as it is cost-effective and doesn’t necessarily rely on biomass boilers. The consultation also asks whether the same approach should be applied to non-dwellings but recognises that the differences between dwellings and non-dwellings necessitate further study in this area. It will consult on this and publish its definition of zero carbon for homes later on in 2009.

The Heat and Energy Savings Strategy

The Heat and Energy Savings Strategy is a high-level policy consultation that closed on 8 May that looks at strategic solutions to reduce carbon emissions from homes. The target is to reduce emissions to as close as possible to zero by 2050 by meeting a series of targets along the way. This includes insulating all cavity walls and lofts by 2015 and cutting carbon emissions from housing by 2020 by 30% compared to 2006 levels.

The strategy proposes a whole-house approach, by which homes are assessed and a package of measures, including renewable energy measures, put in place. The government wants to have applied this to 7 million homes by 2020 and all homes by 2030.

The document considers all the measures available in the government’s armoury to meet this target, including energy-saving advice, obligations on energy companies to improve homes, feed-in tariffs and a more co-ordinated, community approach to improving homes street by street, which includes district heating schemes. It also suggests new models to incentivise homeowners such as cheap loans to help fund improvements that are paid back by energy savings, or allowing energy companies to make improvements and recoup the money through energy bills.

The government wants to use existing regulations to help drive improvements, particularly Part L. Currently, existing buildings over 1,000m2 being improved or extended must have energy-efficiency improvements made elsewhere to comply with Part L. The government asks whether this limit should be scrapped, which could mean homeowners being compelled to make significant additional energy improvements to a home if, say, the loft is being converted or an extension built. Part L in 2010 begins the move in this direction. Ultimately, if this doesn’t work by 2012, the government will consider new regulations to meet its targets. The government has said it will publish an energy and climate change strategy this summer which will reflect comments made in this consultation.

The carbon reduction commitment

This is a sort of scaled-down version of the EU Emissions Trading scheme, under which big carbon emitters are given allocations for emissions. Those who exceed this have to buy permits from others who are below the quota, thus creating a market in carbon. The CRC hits some 5,000 smaller organisations such as central and local government, healthcare trusts and supermarkets. The idea is that it will act as an incentive for organisations to improve the energy efficiency of their operations, including their real estate holdings. It is triggered if an organisation uses more than 6,000mWh of electricity a year.

Organisations will be given an allowance based on their energy use in 2008, with the scheme taking effect in April 2010. Those that exceed an average for all organisations in the scheme will have to buy carbon permits, and those who are better than average will get paid. The CRC could affect many smaller firms as landlords usually pay the electricity bill and pass the cost on as a service charge. Landlords with big portfolios will exceed the trigger point but it remains to be seen how they will pass on the costs to tenants.

Already in force

Code for sustainable homes

The code has been in effect since April 2007 and is the tool devised by government to make all new homes zero carbon by 2016. It has six increasingly demanding levels: the lowest is equivalent to the current Building Regulations for energy and water use, with level six a zero-carbon home generating all its power with minimal water consumption. The code also includes minimum standards for surface water management, site and household waste management and use of materials.

The road map to zero carbon is clearly set out, with increasingly higher levels of the code becoming base Building Regulations in the future. So the 2010 version of Part L will require carbon emissions to be 25% lower than they are now and will be equivalent to code level three, the 2013 version 44% lower and equivalent to level four and 2016 fully zero carbon and level six.

Social housing providers must already build homes to a minimum of level three to receive government grants and since May last year all new homes have had to be assessed against the code and the code certificate included in the home information pack (HIP).

Some changes to the code may be expected over time, for example, it will be tweaked to dovetail with 2010 Part L, Part F and also Part G which deals with water. It will also need to be changed once a new definition of zero carbon is decided on following the recent consultation (see above). It is likely some form of off-site generation will be allowed, which means the definition of level six will need revising.

PPS22 renewable energy

This enables local authorities to demand a percentage of a building’s energy requirement be generated using on-site renewables as a condition of planning.

The application of this is variable; typically, local authorities demand 10% but some up to 20%.

Energy certification of buildings

All new and existing buildings need to be assessed for energy efficiency before being sold or rented. The energy performance of the building fabric needs to be assessed by an accredited inspector and given an energy rating on an A to G scale with A being the best. Buildings over 1,000m2 occupied by public bodies or visited by large numbers of the public, such as universities, need to display a certificate showing how much energy is being used. This display energy certificate is based on the size of energy bills. Compulsory efficiency checks for air-conditioning are also being introduced. From January this year, all systems with an output of over 250kW must have been inspected by a qualified assessor, and by January 2011 this applies to those with an output over 12kW. Systems must be inspected at least every five years.

Site waste management plans

Site waste management plans are compulsory for any construction project with an estimated cost of over £300,000, with slightly different rules applying to jobs with a value over £500,000. The idea is that the process will make contractors aware of how much waste they are producing, prompting them to minimise it. One person is made responsible for estimating and then recording waste produced and recycled during the job. The plan must be regularly updated. Evidence shows that the costs of implementing the plan can be more than offset by the savings from reducing waste.

All other building regulations

What’s happening with the other regs? The communities department said it would update regulations at fixed intervals as called for in Building’s Reform the Regs campaign. There will be changes to Part A, which deals with structures, C which covers site preparation and moisture and J which regulates heat-producing appliances. Expect consultation papers to be issued later this year on these. The main changes to Part A will be to incorporate the new structural Eurocodes.