Green Building Council calls for building regulations reform

3 Nov 2011

Future-proofing houses in Ireland will save people money and make builders and property developers them comply with safety standards, such as obeying fire certificates

The Irish Green Building Council (IGBC) is calling for a complete reform of the building control system in Ireland for compliance with building regulations, including educating the construction trades on how to make houses and apartments more energy efficient – and, crucially, safer – saving people money in the long run.

The IGBC has today called the housing building sector in Ireland a “time bomb”. It says many houses and apartments are still being built to late 20th-century standards.

The IGBC is drawing specifically on the recent Priory Hall fiasco in Dublin, when people were forced to evacuate their apartments due to safety hazards.

The IGBC held its first founder meeting in Dublin in May, when it said there could be €2bn in annual contract opportunities for Irish firms that look to ‘green’ Ireland’s built environment, with the potential to create 30,000 jobs in the process.

At the time, the group had 40 founding members, including leading Irish firms and public bodies from the entire supply chain to the built environment.

Today, the director of the IGBC, Pat Barry, said improved energy-efficiency standards in buildings will not be delivered under the current enforcement regime.

During Ireland’s supposed ‘Celtic Tiger’ years, what happened was that some houses and apartments were practically thrown up around parts of the country that would, in the past, have taken a long time to get planning permission for, as the big players in the construction industry at the time battled to stay ahead of the pack.

Speaking today, IGBC director Pat Barry said the evacuation of the Priory Hall apartment complex has “highlighted the complete failure of the current building control system for building regulations”.

“Priory Hall demonstrates the worst outcome of the current system, where the lives and safety of residents are put at risk by the lack of inspections and adequate enforcement during construction of buildings.”

Barry said infringements of building regulations are not just confined to fire safety. He said failure to comply with energy-efficiency requirements are also a matter of real concern.

Houses being built to a late 20th-century standard

“Energy-efficiency regulations are being updated again this year and are going to widen the gap between many Irish builders’ understanding of building regulations and what they are actually required to build. As a result, a large proportion of our new housing stock is going to continue to be built to a late 20th-century standard.”

The IGBC has called for urgent action in two critical areas:

  • Firstly, a proper enforcement regime must be implemented, combined with professional involvement at all construction stages.
  • Secondly, all building contractors, trades and construction workers must be thoroughly educated in the new standards. Given the reality of building sites, even regular inspections are insufficient to catch non-compliance if site operatives do not understand what they are doing, said Barry.

Reducing energy bills

He said: “In order to meet the requirements of the EU directive on the energy performance of buildings, and to save occupiers high fuel bills, these regulations have been updated several times since 2002, in 2005 and again in 2008. The regulations have been updated again in 2010 coming into force at the end of this year to achieve a 60pc reduction in energy consumption over 2002 standards.

“These updates are for the benefit of households in reducing energy bills. However, there is real doubt as to whether they will actually be complied with.”

The updates introduce new concepts, and reinforce existing concepts in construction that are not widely understood in the construction sector.

These include:

  • Air-tightness
  • Thermal bridge-free construction
  • Improved heating system standards
  • The need for proper ventilation to maintain a healthy indoor environment for inhabitants.

“Compliance with the new regulations requires a fundamental and rigorous understanding of these details from builders. This will require a revolution in how we build buildings and a completely different approach to standards and quality in the Irish construction sector,” he said.

Education and enforcement

On behalf of the IGBC, Barry also asserted today that “a proportion of our construction continues to be built with little or no professional oversight.

“This is at its worst in the residential, self-build, retrofit and domestic extension sector. Without a requirement for all builders and tradespeople to engage in continual education in the new standards, combined with professional oversight and building enforcement inspections, new homes will not meet the proposed regulations.

“Without oversight and education, many tradesmen are building in the way they always built – unaware of new standards. The occupiers of these new houses will not benefit from the new standards and they will continue to pay higher fuel bills and pay dearly for substandard construction. This same level of inspection needs to apply to Government-funded energy-efficiency programmes or the money or intended targets will not be achieved,” he said.

The IGBC says it is supporting calls from professional bodies for a stricter building control system but says this does not replace the need for retraining the entire construction industry.

“The Irish Green Building Council will seek to co-ordinate education at all levels of the construction industry to ensure that energy-efficient targets are met and build capacity so that future more ambitious targets in sustainable construction can be met,” it confirmed earlier today. 

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic