Changes to Part L – is carbon neutral possible for 2016?

282px-AD-L_Part_2A2006 was a big year for building energy efficiency, the European Energy Performance of Buildings Directive started to be implemented. This triggered a radically new Part L, requiring all new building designs to meet CO2 emissions targets. The Code for Sustainable Homes was launched that year, and the government made bold plans to require new dwellings to be carbon neutral by 2016, non-dwellings three years later.

A glide-path to zero carbon was published with interim Part L changes planned for 2010 and 2013. Come 2010, and the first round changes took place, with a 25% reduction in CO2 targets. Then the following year, the government (now a conservative-led government claiming to be the greenest ever) watered down the definition of zero carbon to exclude appliances and cooking. Fair enough, absolute zero carbon perhaps wasn’t a feasible target anyway.

Fast forward to August 2013, and the second round of changes still hasn’t happened. The government has indicated that there will be a meagre reduction of 6% in CO2 targets for dwellings, and 9% for non-dwellings, and that these will kick in in April 2014. What this says to me is that the government, at the moment, aren’t all that interested in being green. Also, that 2016 is going to be very painful for housebuilders, who will have to make a huge leap to zero carbon. This zero-carbon commitment is still in place, and was even reaffirmed in the budget announcement in March. But of course, there’s another general election before 2016….

Part L and the Green Police

It seems like just yesterday I was absorbing the 2010 incarnation of Part L. Now 2013 is creeping up on us fast, and the consultation will be closed 4 weeks from today. The plans for zero carbon homes in 2016 and non-dwellings in 2019 are ambitious, and rightly so. But what happens after 2019? It’ll be years before there are enough zero-carbon buildings to really make a dent in UK emissions. In the meantime there are thousands of inefficient buildings that won’t get touched by Part L, because no building work is being done on them. The ever-expanding list of actions that triggers consequential improvements may help – for example making works such as boiler and window replacements trigger further improvements. But there is a danger this will just discourage building owners from doing such works in the first place, or encourage them to hide their activities from the green police.

We need to come up with new ways of bringing the existing building stock up-to-scratch, that don’t involve waiting until someone decides to do some building work. Building MOTs? Mandatory follow-through of recommendations from EPCs, DECs and air conditioning inspections? Fines for excessive energy use? I don’t have all the answers, but what I am pretty sure of is that energy prices are going to keep rising as fossil fuels get scarcer and the world’s population gets bigger. Give it another few years, and businesses won’t need legislation pushing them to manage their energy use better, they’ll have to do it to survive.

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