The government is getting tough on energy waste, so being green is more than just good PR. It is vital to your survival. Here’s what the Part L proposals say – and how they’ll affect you.

The government is declaring war on waste. Proposals for a radical shake-up of the Building Regulations on energy use were published last week by the DETR.

If the suggestions are adopted, the repercussions for construction will be huge. The drive for the efficient use of energy will have an unprecedented effect on the way buildings are designed, built and operated. It will affect everybody from designers, developers and contractors to housebuilders, manufacturers and consultants. And the proposals are not just for new buildings; existing ones will be affected, too.

Proposals in the new document could spell the end of brick-and-block house construction because the more stringent U-values will be cheaper to meet with steel and timber frame. New measures to make buildings more air-tight could result in a rethink of the way buildings from offices to supermarkets are detailed and constructed. It could also mean the end of the Foster-style glazed building: their susceptibility to solar gain means they require air-conditioning, and the rules require that to be justified in new buildings. Even the light bulb is under threat.

For householders, it is good news: the DETR predicts savings of up to one-quarter on their energy bills. For construction, improving buildings’ energy efficiency could prove expensive. It is predicted that the proposals will cost housebuilders £1500 on a semi-detached home, and for commercial developments, the figure could be as high as £10/m2 – £1m for a typical 100 000 m2 office block.

The changes are proposed in the consultation document: Proposals for Amending the Energy Efficiency Regulations, issued by the government on the 15 June. They will affect both the Building Regulations and the guidance, published as Approved Document L, that shows ways of meeting the technical requirements. However, the regulations apply only to England and Wales; Scotland and Northern Ireland will be issuing separate proposals. The deadline for commenting on the proposals is 29 September. Comments will be incorporated into the regulations, which are due to be issued in mid-2001, and will come into effect six months later. A further tightening of the insulation value of the fabric will follow two years later. Unusually, the government has also hinted what future changes could be made. These will come into effect after 2005.

The revisions are aimed at cutting carbon dioxide emissions from buildings; part of the government’s larger commitment to achieve a national reduction of CO2 to 20% below 1990 levels. Buildings produce about half of all national CO2 emissions and are an obvious target for government action. At the launch of the document, construction minister Nick Raynsford commented that, “average building performance is poor by comparison with best practice”. These proposals are a move by the government to tighten standards of construction.

It is estimated by the government that the changes will lead to a cut in CO2 emissions from new homes by one-quarter. However, some feel that the proposals are not radical enough if the problem of global warming is to be seriously addressed. “The government has not set really rigorous standards,” says Ant Wilson of consultant Oscar Faber, which was responsible for co-ordinating the earlier consultation exercises. Andrew Warren, director of the Association for the Conservation of Energy, goes further: “However apparently radical this document appears, within the context of the threat of climate change, it is still opting out of addressing the issue,” he says.