Important step forward in Northern Ireland’s response to climate emergency as government embraces ‘nearly zero energy’ buildings

The RSUA has welcomed proposed changes to Building Regulations by the Department of Finance which would require new buildings in Northern Ireland to be more energy efficient (see Department of Finance news release).

Speaking about the new measures, Ciarán Fox, Director of the RSUA said: “The launch today of the draft technical documents to require Nearly-Zero Energy Buildings is an important first step on the road to reducing heating bills and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from buildings. In terms of the energy efficiency of our buildings we are currently behind all other regions of the UK and Ireland but this will help us catch up.”

“There has been a lot of news recently about gas prices rocketing up. The best way to protect people from rising home heating costs is to build houses which don’t require much heating at all.”

“Architects and the whole supply chain have already demonstrated the ability to deliver to these higher energy performance standards. Therefore, we look forward to the speedy implementation of these standards across the board.”

Furthermore, Mr Fox went on to outline the greater challenge of upgrading existing buildings: “The levels of greenhouse gases from home heating in Northern Ireland in 2019 were almost identical to the levels in 1999. We now need to quickly make up for two decades of insufficient action. Higher energy performance standards for new buildings will help but if we are serious about lowering emissions we need a region-wide retrofit programme to better insulate existing buildings and decarbonise heating systems.”

With energy prices making the headlines on a regular basis, many will be taking steps to reduce their gas and electricity bills in order to save money and help minimize their carbon footprint. New draft regulations and technical guidance from the Department of Finance, if approved after consultation, will mean Nearly Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB) become the legal standard in Northern Ireland.

Under this standard all new buildings will have lower energy requirements – a goal reached via fabric improvements such as better insulation, airtightness and greener sources of power such as heat pumps, photovoltaic panels and solar-heated water.

The proposed changes will be open for consultation until 19 December 2021.