Climate Change and Building Regulations

Posted Wednesday 27th November 2019

The scientific consensus is that greenhouse gasses (including carbon dioxide CO2) which have vastly increased in modern commercial times, are preventing the release of heat from the Earth’s atmosphere causing global warming that undermines the sustainable physical living environment. As a consequence, most international governments enacted the Kyoto Protocol in 2005, and the UK government has enacted Part L of the Building Regulations and the Climate Change Act, in order to reduce carbon emissions.

The Physics is clear: from the viewpoint of the effect on the oceans, only a fraction of the oceans need warming to have a massive adverse effect on climate. It is the surface currents especially which are directly connected to the Earth’s atmosphere that are significantly impacted when change is afoot. We live on the outer fine layer on the edge of the earth’s surface. So thin is the veneer on which humanity depends.

Around 45% of greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings.

The Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty which extended the 1992 framework on Climate Change. It committed the nations who have signed up to it to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, based on the scientific consensus that firstly, global warming is occurring; and, secondly, it is extremely likely that this is having an increasingly adverse effect on the Earth’s environment.

The Kyoto Protocol implemented the objective to reduce global warming by reducing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic greenhouse gases emissions from interfering with the climate system.

Building Regulations

The UK has enacted Part L of the Building Regulations to give legal effect to such objectives.

The Building Regulations set out the requirements for specific aspects of building design and construction. Regulation 26, in particular, states that buildings should not exceed the target CO2 emissions rate. Schedule 1 Part L – “Conservation of Fuel and Power” states that the provision for the conversation of fuel and power must be made by producing heat and gases and providing building services, which are energy efficient and have effective controls, or are properly constructed so that the buildings can be operated efficiently for this purpose.

A series of Approved Documents provide general guidance on how different aspects of building design and construction should comply with the Building Regulations Part L “Conservation of fuel and power energy efficiency”:

L1A – new (i.e. homes)
L2B – existing dwellings (i.e. homes)
L2A – new buildings which are not dwellings
L2B – existing building other than dwellings

In summary, the key criteria covers:

  1. Designed carbon emissions must not exceed the Target Emissions Rate per year.
  2. Fixed building services should achieve a reasonable standard of energy efficiency (with minimum parameters set for key components of the building fabric; to see that are no inappropriate trade-offs with other elements of the building are made, to ensure that this is achieved.
  3. Solar power gains should be limited.
  4. “As built” performance of the building should be consistent with the Dwelling Emission Rate (DER); and
  5. Building owners are to be provided with full information to provide for ongoing energy efficient operation of their buildings.

The Climate Change Act

In 2008 the UK enacted the Climate Change Act. The central commitment of the Act is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the UK by at least 80% by 2050 as compared with 1990 levels.

In reality however emissions from the construction and development industry have unfortunately more or less remained constant since the introduction of the Act. Therefore further purposeful endeavours are required for buildings to offset the emissions produced in the building process, by regulating energy use.

A key challenge for regulators, developers and contractors is the need to bridge the performance gap between modelled energy consumption at design stage, and the actual metered output of energy use in the operation of new buildings.

There is much more work for the industry to do, including conducting more realistic modelling at the design stage, and in regard to monitoring operational performance. We need to learn the lessons that can help to close the performance gap.

As we look to the future and the 2050 deadline of the UK’s Climate Change Act, clear opportunities exist for improving environmental outcomes in conjunction with increased efficiency of delivery and productivity combined with the constant need for commercial profitability.

Society and responsible social policy requires further focused activity from the industry, regulators and companies with regard to the production of new buildings and building services to achieve the necessary environmental adjustments.

This article is for reference purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be sought separately before taking or deciding not to take any action.

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