Building a House in Ireland? What You Need to Know About Low Energy Solutions

In 2006, the residential sector accounted for just under a quarter of all energy used in Ireland & was the second largest using sector after transport. Energy is consumed by the sector for the purposes of heating, cooking, cleaning, washing, drying, lighting, cooling & entertainment.

Due to the fact that our energy is largely imported from a rapidly-diminishing resource of fossil fuels, there is a huge onus of responsibility on home-owners & designers to reduce the amount of energy required to live comfortably in our homes as well as significantly increasing the amount of fuel domestically generated from renewable sources. Irish consumer spend € 6 billion per annual on imported fossil fuels – if we can be more energy-efficient and / or use domestically generated fuels, then the economic & employment benefits are very significant. Also, the environmental benefits will be indicative for the country & the planet at large.

For example, a house builder looking to build an energy efficient house in Cork, or an existing home owner looking to perform energy saving updates should consult with a specialist builder of Eco homes and sustainable buildings. The savings made in long term heating costs will be far greater than the initial investment in green building materials.

With this in mind, the Irish Government has adopted and published "THE NATIONAL ENERGY EFFICIENCY ACTION PLAN 2009 – 2020", the primary tenets which are as follows:

  • 20% reduction in energy demand across the economy
  • 33% reduction in public sector energy usage
  • 10% of our passenger & light commercial fleet to be electrically powered

The Action Plan also states that the two major energy efficiency challenges that face the residential building sector are:

  • To create a generation of buildings that meet expectations of comfort & functionality while significantly reducing energy usage & CO2 emissions
  • To address the legacy of older buildings with poor energy & CO2 performance

The primary driver for improved energy performance in new buildings is the Building Regulations which are regularly upgradated. Contrary to some popular belief, building standards have improved thru the boom period, particularly when measured in terms of energy demand: a typical 2007 house will require 70% less energy than a 1987 house for space & water heating purposes. However, there are many more energy-saving measures to be roled out. The 2002 Building Regulations are now being used as the benchmark against which ongoing improvements are being measured. The 2007 Building regulations deliver a 40% more energy efficient house than the 2002 version, while the upcoming 2010 Regulations will increase that margin to 60%. It is envisaged that in 2013, Low Carbon Homes will become the new standard, which will increase the margin of energy efficiency to 70% from 2002.

Obviously, it will be a little more challenging to deliver energy efficiencies in the huge stock of existing housing, much of which was constructed to very low standards. It is estimated that 1 million homes approximate require investment to improve their energy efficiency. As many as 300,000 houses built pre-1981 have little or no energy efficiency features & have very significant energy demand.

However, it is hoped that home-owners can be incentivised with a number of measures to improve the energy efficiency of their homes in order for the country as a whole to meet it's 2020 targets. In particular, homeowners are currently being encouraged as follows:

  • Home Energy Saving Scheme: Grants are available for improvements such as cavity insulation, external wall insulation, attic insulation, condensing boilers, heating controls, etc
  • Building Energy Ratings (BER): All homes or apartments for sale or rent now have to have a BER. As the rating will be likely to become a factor in the price or rent that can be ordered, it is rented that homeowners / landlords will be motivated to improve their stock. This rating will also be critical for the incoming homeowner or tenant as it will indicate their annual energy costs.
  • Smart Metering: The Program for Government is committed to ensuring the installation of a smart meter in every household in Ireland. Smart meters support energy efficient behavior in homes by offering consumers information on their energy usage and make clear the opportunities for change & improvement. They also include features such as net metering which allows users to sell micro-generated power to the national grid. International experience suggests that smart meters can prompt behavior change, leading to electricity savings of at least 3%.
  • Warmer Homes Scheme: This scheme addresses the problem of energy affordability by providing attic insulation, lagging jackets, draft-proofing, energy-efficient lighting, cavity wall insulation, etc at little or no cost to eligible households.
  • Greener Homes Scheme: This scheme provides grants to home owners to install new renewable heating systems in their homes such as Biomass, Heat Pump & Solar Thermal.

The Government is also involved in other areas in their endeavor to deliver the target energy efficiencies, such as: better spatial & planning policies, consumer awareness campaigns, best practice design for social housing, etc.

The drive to low energy housing is a win: win situation for all holders: energy costs are reduced, huge economic & employment benefits, huge reductions in CO2 & Greenhouse gas emissions which will make it a healthier and more sustainable environment for all.