Since energy assessments were first brought in for new buildings, everyone from architects to manufacturers has become much more aware of the efficiency, cost effectiveness and energy saving marketing opportunities of everything from a pre-built timber frame house to a common bathroom tap.
Innovations need to continue, and as the Government continues to push us towards building carbon neutral houses in just three years’ time, it’s more important now than ever to make sure the best products are available and viable for constructors of all sizes.
The final Part L 2013 documents have not been published yet, but if the various draft papers are to be believed, target emission rates for new buildings are going to be cut by around 25% from October. It’s also thought that U-Values – particularly for external walls – will need to be drastically reduced.
Looking at where we are today, it is possible to design and build a house to these upcoming standards, providing you have the budget and inclination to do so. But to be able to construct every new home to these higher standards of efficiency with what’s available today is a tall ask indeed.
A good example of recent innovations is in the world of PV panels. Photovoltaics are a common site now, but they’re still not for everyone. For those who aren’t keen on sticking black glass plates onto their roofs manufacturers have been working out alternative ways of using this technology.
You can buy PV tiles which are far more pleasing on the eye, and also PV skylights which are transparent. There’s also combined PV and solar thermal panels which generate electricity and hot water simultaneously, and in development are fluorescent light fittings with built in PV arrays which use their own light to partially generate their own power.
Another area of progress is in building materials. A typical cavity wall filled with mineral wool would be expected to achieve a U-Value of around 0.28. If the draft documents for new Building Regs are to be believed, this is going to be nowhere near the new target, so there are two possible options... either find better insulation materials or build thicker walls with more insulation in the cavities.
We are aware of one firm which has produced a PU foam board that doesn’t need an air gap in the cavity wall. This means you can install 100mm of polyurethane in the wall, giving you much lower U-Values without widening the footprint of the building.
Timber frame manufacturers are also getting in on this, and are constantly looking for higher quality insulation so they can market their products as the best.
Elsewhere, heat recovery devices are popping up all over the place... You can now pre-heat a dwelling’s water supply not just from solar panels, but also by collecting waste heat from the boiler flue and also from bath and shower waste pipes.
Heat retaining properties for new windows continue to improve. It’s now possible to get a window that has a similar U-Value to that of a 1980’s cavity wall. Low energy lighting is already moving on from energy saving mini-fluorescents and moving onto more fashionable looking LEDs, and boiler and heat pump efficiencies are continuing to creep their way higher and higher with every new product released.
With so much on offer, it would appear on the face of it that we have nothing to worry about when the new regulations kick off, but there’s a key problem with all of the above new products – cost.
These products need to become popular so purchasing costs can be reduced, but that’s unlikely to happen until the new Building Regulations go live and developers are forced into using them.
It’s a Catch 22 which has happened with previous upgrades to Building Regs, and will continue to happen in the future.