Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown to lead the world on energy efficiency

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council’s decision to demand that all new buildings meet the passive house standard will deliver world class performance without increasing prices, a leading sustainable building expert has claimed.

The local authority passed a motion on Wednesday that all new buildings in the county must meet the passive house standard, which involves designing buildings to require 80 to 90% less heating than typical buildings, while ensuring high levels of comfort and indoor quality.

“Anyone building a new home has to achieve 60% energy reductions and install a renewable energy system to satisfy building regulations anyway,” said Jeff Colley, editor of Passive House Plus magazine. “That typically means an A2 or A3 BER, bringing construction costs up to passive house levels, but with no guarantee that the building will actually work. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown deserve great credit for committing to a building standard that actually works, and that’s firmly rooted in building science.” The local authority has included the mandatory passive house clause in its draft county development plan, which goes out to public consultation on 2 March.

According to Colley there is a pressing need to adopt passive house without delay, as some of the approaches the construction industry is taking to meet new building regulations will fail to deliver anticipated energy savings, while compromising indoor air quality and leading to the need for repair work.

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“The regulations are driving people to insulate buildings better, but not necessarily to put in effective ventilation,” Colley said. “Yet the standard approach in the industry is still to knock holes in walls for ventilation, and there’s no evidence to show that this works, least of all in low energy buildings.”

Colley argues that attempts to deliver energy efficiency and improved build quality in general will fall flat unless scientifically sound methods such as passive house are used. “The state isn’t monitoring how supposedly A-rated buildings are actually performing, so no-one knows whether the regulations work – although the anecdotal evidence is extremely worrying. By contrast the UK government is monitoring newly built homes, has found that they’re consuming substantially more energy than predicted, and is resolved to do something about it.

“Passive houses work. We have the benefit of 25 years of detailed monitoring to show that these buildings are genuinely energy efficient, healthy, comfortable and built to last.”

According to Colley, the construction industry has nothing to fear from passive house and everything to gain. “Passive houses can be built using any construction method, by any competent builder or any designer, so there are great opportunities here for the Irish construction industry. It’s even possible to build a passive house using exclusively Irish-made components, and given that it’s an international standard, there’s great export potential in this for Irish companies.”