Date set for implementation of higher standards in new buildings to reduce heating bills and address climate crisis

31/03/2022

The Royal Society of Ulster Architects (RSUA) has welcomed changes to Building Regulations which will require new buildings in Northern Ireland to be more energy efficient from the end of June 2022 (see Department of Finance release).

On Friday, Finance Minister Conor Murphy announced that from 30 June 2022 new buildings will be required to be up to 40% more energy efficient. Speaking about the new measures, Ciarán Fox, Director of the RSUA said: “Rising energy costs have been dominating headlines across the globe recently. The best solution to this problem is to construct new buildings which don’t require much heating in the first place. Therefore this news – that soon all new homes will be Nearly-Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB) – is most welcome.”

“This is an important first step in catching up with other regions of the UK and Ireland in terms of energy efficiency. RSUA has been campaigning for these changes to be implemented for some time, as they were scheduled to be in place from December 2020 – so we welcome the short time frame of only three months between publication and implementation. This schedule will pose some challenges to the industry but I am confident that this is a challenge to which the sector will rise. However, government support for this transition will be very important. We are calling on the government departments to put in place protocols to fast-track minor changes to planning permissions, provide financial support for housing associations to meet additional costs and support upskilling across the sector.”

The new regulations require a 40% betterment in energy efficiency for new houses, 25% for new flats and 15% for new buildings other than dwellings. Earlier this year, the Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs launched Northern Ireland’s first ever Climate Change Bill. The headline target from this new legislation was that Northern Ireland should achieve ‘net-zero’ by 2050.

A recent letter from the Climate Change Committee to the Northern Ireland Assembly warned that if this target is going to be attained then, at minimum, all new heating systems should be zero-carbon by 2028 for properties off the gas grid and by 2033 for those on the grid. This represents around 75% of homes in Northern Ireland. In addition, all newly-constructed homes would not only have to be nearly zero energy, but net zero-carbon as soon as practicable, with no requirement for later retrofit.

Mr Fox continued: “These changes must be used as a starting point, with a greater focus now being placed on how we can better insulate existing buildings and decarbonise heating systems. The levels of greenhouse gases from home heating in Northern Ireland in 2019 were almost identical to the levels in 1999. Therefore a huge turnaround is required if real and tangible change is going to be achieved. Northern Ireland requires strong leadership in order to make this happen. RSUA looks forward to working with government on longer term plans to help address our climate crisis.”