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
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”