OPIN­ION: Is it Time for the Build­ing Regs to Look For­ward?

With the ef­fects of cli­mate change be­com­ing more no­tice­able, it’s time for Build­ing Reg­u­la­tions to start think­ing about the needs of homes in decades to come, ar­gues eco ex­pert Tim Pullen

Homebuilding & Renovating - - CONTENTS - Tim Pullen Tim is an ex­pert in sus­tain­able build­ing and en­ergy ef­fi­ciency in res­i­den­tial homes. He is the au­thor of Sim­ply Sus­tain­able Homes

Eco ex­pert Tim Pullen ar­gues that Regs are liv­ing in the past when it comes to ef­fects on cli­mate change on our homes

The gov­ern­ment’s En­vi­ron­men­tal Au­dit Select Com­mit­tee, chaired by Mary Creagh and with ‘green’ lu­mi­nar­ies such as Caro­line Lu­cas and Zac Gold­smith as mem­bers, has rec­om­mended that the Build­ing Regs be changed to in­tro­duce mea­sures to com­bat over­heat­ing in homes. This is ob­vi­ously a re­ac­tion to the re­cent heat­wave and the re­al­i­sa­tion that this event is only likely to be­come more com­mon as cli­mate change pro­gresses.

Ac­cord­ing to the Met Of­fice, nine of the 10 warm­est years in the past cen­tury have oc­curred since 2002. Last year was the fifth warm­est in that pe­riod and this year may get even higher up the chart. The Met Of­fice’s chief sci­en­tist, Prof Stephen Belcher, is quoted as say­ing that while UK heat­waves “may not be the new nor­mal… within a

few decades they could be.”

Clearly then some ac­tion needs to be taken and given that it takes a while to pro­duce new Build­ing Reg­u­la­tions, and even longer for those reg­u­la­tions to come into real ef­fect, then it is not un­rea­son­able to start that process soon.

But do we ac­tu­ally need new reg­u­la­tions? It is a fun­da­men­tal part of Build­ing Reg­u­la­tions com­pli­ance for ev­ery new build to have a SAP assess­ment com­pleted. This is a means of mea­sur­ing and cal­cu­lat­ing the en­ergy

con­sump­tion of a prop­erty, and over­heat­ing po­ten­tial has been a spe­cific part of that since 2005. This deals with over­heat­ing po­ten­tial from both so­lar gain through glaz­ing and in­ter­nal gain from light­ing, cen­tral heat­ing pumps, ven­ti­la­tion, etc.

Per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence would in­di­cate that the is­sue of over­heat­ing po­ten­tial in the SAP seems to be hon­oured more in the breach. Nei­ther self-builders nor big house­builders give the is­sue a great deal of con­sid­er­a­tion as the need for con­cern arises only rarely. In for­eign climes – Greece, Italy, Spain – over­heat­ing is not dealt with specif­i­cally in their Build­ing Reg­u­la­tions, as it does not need to be. They have al­ways had high tem­per­a­tures to deal with, and houses are built to cope with it as a mat­ter of rou­tine, gen­er­ally by in­clud­ing lots of ther­mal mass. My own 200-year-old home in deep­est, dark­est Wales has 400mm thick stone walls, and through­out the sum­mer heat­wave the in­ter­nal tem­per­a­ture never rose above 24°C — and did not fall be­low 21°C. Equally, in those hot­ter coun­tries, build­ing a house with lots of glaz­ing would al­ways come with ap­pro­pri­ate shad­ing.

There are only two ways of deal­ing with over­heat­ing: stop it get­ting into the house or in­stall suf­fi­cient ven­ti­la­tion (nat­u­ral or me­chan­i­cal) to get it out. Both of these add cost to the build and it seems un­likely that big house­builders will ac­cept that cost with­out a fight.

But maybe the only change that is needed is the en­force­ment of cur­rent reg­u­la­tions. We self-builders are forced to do that any­way but com­mer­cial builders may be work­ing to Build­ing Reg­u­la­tions three to six years be­hind what­ever is cur­rent, as com­pli­ance is re­quired at the time the build­ing is de­signed, not when it is built. (Build­ing Regs are up­dated on a three year cy­cle.)

There are around 24mil­lion homes in the UK and new reg­u­la­tions will do noth­ing to help those prop­er­ties.

Hav­ing said that, the fact of cli­mate change is inar­guable and the im­pact it is likely to have on houses and the way we live in them is be­com­ing clearer. So it would seem equally inar­guable that Build­ing Reg­u­la­tions have to change to re­flect this new re­al­ity. Per­haps the big­gest change would be to stop fol­low­ing trends and start set­ting them — work needs to start on a set of reg­u­la­tions that re­flect what we will need in 10 or 20 years’ time.

“Over­heat­ing in homes is be­com­ing an in­creas­ing con­cern… work needs to start on a set of Regs that re­flect what we need in 10 or 20 years’ time”

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