Minister English’s opening address at the Irish Green Building Council Better Homes 2018 Conference 

Check against delivery

Good morning and thank you for the invitation to address your Better Homes conference today. The aims of the Irish Green Building Council (IGBC) and my Department are similar in many respects. We are both committed to finding sustainable solutions to restore and remake our housing sector, in a way that won’t expose us to the risks and mistakes of the past. A good example of the IGBC’s commitment in this regard is the Home Performance Index (HPI) which was developed to drive change in the industry towards a more sustainable built environment.  It aligns closely with my Departments guidelines on Quality Housing for Sustainable Communities. I’m delighted to have the opportunity to outline some of the policies and legislation we are implementing in support of these aims.

Rebuilding Ireland

Rebuilding Ireland is an ambitious programme – it is a €6.6 billion, multi-annual action plan which is designed to significantly increase the supply of social housing and double the output of overall housing to at least 25,000 homes per annum by 2021. It’s not a quick-fix. The Irish Housing system was devastated during the downturn with housing output falling by 90%. There is no quick fix to a shock like that. It takes a series of targeted actions across the complex and inter-related parts of the housing system.

At this point, we have put in place a very significant series of targeted responses that are designed to:

  • Stabilise and provide the emergency response to homelessness;
  • Develop a major social housing programme;
  • Rebuild the house building industry and ensure that there is a steady supply of affordable homes;
  • Reform and modernise the rental sector; and;
  • Maximise the potential from vacant homes.

We are doing everything possible to provide ongoing support for our most vulnerable citizens, while managing long-term programmes to create a sustainable pathway to a stable and consistent housing system.

The need to continue to intensify and accelerate new build activity is to the fore of our strategic planning. The early years of Rebuilding Ireland focussed on harnessing existing capacity and more immediate solutions, while in parallel progressing local authority and Approved Housing Body (AHB) capacity to build more, and establishing solid project pipelines.

 While it is vital to deliver housing as quickly as possible, it is equally important to deliver quality and durable housing solutions that will meet the needs and expectations of consumers in a manner that is sustainable economically, socially and environmentally. The quality of our new housing is of an extremely high standard – one of the reasons is because of the significantly enhanced standards my Department has developed and ensured are met for all new homes. Our building regulations provide for the safety and welfare of people in and about buildings and they are reviewed regularly to ensure they continue to set those high standards.

Implementation of NZEB

The implementation of  Near Zero Energy Building Standard (NZEB) is a key action for the built environment in contributing to Ireland’s National Low Carbon Transition and Mitigation Plan.  I know I’m preaching to the converted here and I don’t have to convince you of the benefits of NZEB – but I would like to assure you of our commitment to improving energy efficiency in our buildings and supporting the Irish Construction and property sector in becoming a global leader in quality and sustainability.

In Ireland, approximately 40% of total energy produced is used in the building sector.

As you are aware, the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive sets ambitious goals for energy efficiency and renewables in buildings by requiring NZEB performance for new buildings from 31st December 2020.

In addition, the Directive also requires that Major Renovations to existing buildings are completed to a cost optimal level, where it is feasible.

In order to meet these commitments, in November 2017 I published an amendment to Part L of the Building Regulations for non-residential buildings, this specifies NZEB performance requirements for new non-residential buildings and Major Renovation requirements for existing buildings. These new performance requirements improve the energy performance in the order of 60% and introduce mandatory renewables on all new non-residential buildings. These regulations apply to works to new and existing buildings which commence after 1st of January 2019 subject to transition arrangements.  My Department has worked closely with the Department of Education and Skills, the Office of Public Works and Health Services bodies, as well as many Construction Industry bodies to develop, elaborate and introduce the regulations and guidance.

In April I published a further draft amendment to Part L of the Building Regulations for Dwellings for public consultation. The Part L public consultation has been reviewed and the legislation will be published shortly.

When implemented, these new regulations will improve the energy performance of new dwellings by 70% over 2005 building regulations provisions.

Currently, based on CSO statistics 98% of all new dwellings are built to an A3 rated BER standard. When these new regulations are implemented an A2 rating will apply to a typical new dwelling.

These regulations will also require that where Major Renovations take place which are greater than 25% of the surface area of the dwelling, the dwelling should achieve a cost optimal performance where feasible. This is equivalent to a B2 rating for a typical dwelling.

Improving energy efficiency will improve the health and comfort of those living in dwellings, and I want to ensure that whilst we achieve more energy efficient buildings we also build healthy, sustainable and durable buildings suitable for the Irish Climate both today and into the future. Given the significant relationship between ensuring energy efficiency and providing adequate ventilation,

I have also published a draft amendment to Part F of the Building Regulations which deals with Ventilation for public consultation.

Part F (Ventilation) of the Building Regulations sets out minimum standards to provide effective and adequate means of ventilation in buildings.

In the context of greater energy efficiency and increased air tightness – adequate ventilation is paramount to ensure good indoor air quality.

Our technical guidance accompanying the new regulation is introducing additional guidance to ensure proper installation of ventilation systems requiring that they be designed, installed and commissioned by competent designers and installers. The technical standard – SR54 – developed and set by The National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) on energy efficiency for home renovations, is seen as best practice by industry and it includes both energy efficiency and ventilation in the topics it covers.

All of this aligns closely with the Home Performance Index I referred to earlier. NZEB will deliver benefits across the three categories of

  • Occupant costs – in terms of energy savings,
  • Occupant wellbeing – in terms of improved indoor air quality and
  • Our planet – impact on the development of climate change.

I’ve seen at first hand a number of local authority developments that have achieved HPI certification and they are a fine example of quality social homes.

It is estimated that the cumulative improvements to regulations mean that a dwelling built to the 2011 regulations would require 90% less energy than the equivalent dwelling built in 1978 to deliver the same standards of heat, hot water and light. So we have already made enormous progress in this field.

Many of the techniques required to achieve NZEB, such as improved fabric and renewables, have been introduced on a gradual basis into Part L of the Building Regulations since 2007.  This effectively eases the transition and minimizes the additional cost and effort required, to achieve NZEB for dwellings.

We have also simplified and expanded the guidance for renewables, moving to a ratio rather than an absolute quantum and provided examples of compliant dwellings to aid understanding throughout the industry and promote cost effective design.

NZEB has improved the quality of construction such as detailing to improve air tightness and avoid thermal bridges. It has also driven innovation in construction by providing a robust method to assess the energy and carbon performance of dwellings. The Dwelling Energy Assessment Procedure (DEAP) has provided a transparent method of advancing the performance requirements for dwellings.

In relation to the skills and trades required for NZEB, I am very pleased that bodies such as Dublin Institute of Technology and Waterford and Wexford Education and Training Board are working with my Department, the Department of Education and Skills, Solas and other key stakeholders to develop training programmes in vocational and professional skills for existing crafts persons and professionals in the delivery of NZEB.

These are key actions for the built environment in contributing to Ireland’s National Low Carbon Transition and Mitigation Plan to address Climate Change, and I am confident that they will be implemented and achieve the projected emissions reductions.

They are also beneficial to our economy – creating and protecting jobs. The benefits associated with nearly zero energy homes such as improved levels of comfort, better indoor air quality and reduced energy and heating bills will have a very positive effect on the health and wellbeing of our citizens, both now and into the future.

Finally thank you again for the opportunity to address you here today. It’s great to see such a cross section of representatives from across the construction industry, housing agencies, and local government. You appear to have a very interesting agenda lined up and I’m sure you will enjoy the morning and benefit from the insights you hear today.