northern ireland

The Full Monty (Zero-carbon, Passivhaus Primary School)

Montgomery Primary School in Devon is the UK's first zero carbon, climate – change ready school.  Andy Pearson takes a look at the fabric first, 'tea cosy' principles behind the design of this award-winning building.

When it comes to achieving outstanding results Montgomery Primary School, in Exeter, is top of the class. The UK's first zero-carbon school, it is also the country's first Passivhaus school and its first climate-change-ready school. If all that were not enough, this pioneering £8.9 m scheme was recognised by CIBSE at the Building Performance Awards 2014, at which it won the New Build Project of the Year award for schemes under £10m.

The zero-carbon target for the 420-pupil school was set by the client, Devon County Council, in 2008. The council had secured additional funding from the Priority School Building Programme - along with a grant from the Zero Carbon Task Force - to create an exemplar zero-carbon school that would help to increase knowledge and understanding of low-energy school design. The council worked with engineers Hamson JPA, and their architect and quantity surveyor affiliates at NPS Group, plus Exeter University's Centre for Energy and the Environment, to develop the design. The team set out to pioneer a new approach to primary school design. The simplest solution to meeting the client's zero-carbon aspirations would have been to construct a conventional Building Regulations-compliant building, which could be transformed into a zero-carbon solution using a biomass boiler for heat and hot water, and a green electricity tariff for electrical power. Such an approach was considered unsustainable by the design team.

'This solution is without value because it relies on the continued use of precious resources,' says the project's quantity surveyor, Chris Rea, from NPS Group. By contrast, Montgomery Primary School has been designed to minimise its use of resources, so that all energy for heating, lighting and power is generated on site.

“The space heating requirement of the school is now so small that the primary source of heat input is body heat from the pupils and teaching staff”

The starting point for the resource-lean design was to minimise fabric heat losses. The new two-storey school has been built within the grounds of the 1930s primary school it has now replaced. It is oriented north-south, with the majority of classrooms facing north and the more flexible teaching spaces to the south. A double height, central atrium-corridor divides the spaces.  Passivhaus standards were adopted for the design of the building fabric. These set a limit of 120 kWh/m' /year primary energy use, and 15 kWh/m'/year for heating and ventilation - significantly lower than the 55 kWh/m'/year for a typical school. To meet the heating target, the school's walls have been assembled from highly insulated, precast concrete sandwich panels, comprising 100 mm of high performance, rigid foam insulation, sandwiched between a 100 mm-thick concrete inner leaf and 70 mm outer skin.

Concrete was selected for its high thermal mass, which was deemed essential in enabling the step-up from Passivhaus to zero carbon. Pressure to complete the 2,786m2 building in time for the school term forced the design team along the precast, modular route. At the time the modular fabric solution was being developed, building services design was not sufficiently advanced to enable these to be incorporated into the precast units.

On top of the precast walls is precast concrete roof deck, blanketed with 200 mm of extruded polystyrene insulation. Underneath the building is a 150 mm layer of expanded polystyrene to insulate the cast, in-situ raft foundation and floor slab from the ground. 'We've adopted the same principle as a tea cosy, with insulation placed on the outside of the building to allow the thermal mass of the concrete structure to be fully exploited,' explains Rea.

Compliance with Passivhaus standards has ensured the school is exceptionally airtight. 'We followed the maxim "build tight, ventilate right",' says Rea. An air-seal barrier layer was defined in the modular wall, roof and floor constructions at the outset In addition, construction joints were carefully detailed and unavoidable service penetrations and other openings were kept as regular circles or rectangles to match the pipe or duct, and to make them easier to seal. To ensure the detailing was flawless, regular workshops were undertaken with all members of the construction team; for some of the more critical details, samples were prepared and tested on site to verify their performance.

The team's efforts were successful. The Passivhaus air-leakage standard is o.6 air changes per hour at 50 Pa; the focus on air tightness at Montgomery has enabled the building to achieve an impressive 0.28 air changes per hour at 50 Pa.

The fabric-first approach dramatically reduced the space heating requirement of the school. In fact, this is now so small that the primary source of heat input is body heat from the pupils and teaching staff.

A mechanical ventilation system with heat recovery ensures optimal thermal comfort is maintained throughout. Warmed fresh air is supplied to the teaching spaces. This returns to the air handling unit (AHU) through a high-level transfer grille into the building's central atrium-corridor, from where a high-level grille allows the air to return to the AHU in the plant room. This enables excess heat to be moved from high-occupancy spaces to spaces with a lower occupancy and a demand for heat.

Top-up heat is provided by electric heating elements mounted in the air supply ducts. The electric elements are set to operate on manual boost or fabric frost protection only. To protect against overuse, the boost feature is restricted to returning the room to the design set-point temperature. The advantage of this simple heating system is that it has zero losses when not in use and is almost 100% efficient in operation. 'Using electric heaters enabled us to offset this electricity using roof mounted photovoltaic panels.' says Rea.

The ventilation system operates in two modes. In winter, when heat is required, the building is predominantly mechanically ventilated using a variable air-volume strategy under control of the Building Energy Management System (BEMS). This uses temperature and C02 sensors to control dampers to alter the volume of air supplied. The BEMS also varies the speed of the fans in the building's AHU to minimise expended fan energy, while keeping the system in balance.

Energy consumption in the AHU is further minimised by a reversing regenerator unit. This uses two metal heat-exchanger packs to absorb heat from the exhaust air stream, and a series of dampers to reverse the airflow through the unit mechanically, once every minute. Initially, warmed exhaust air passes through one of the aluminium regenerator units, heating it before it is discharged. Simultaneously, cold supply air passes through the other, warmed, regenerator unit, where it picks up heat before it is supplied to the school. After 60 seconds, the control dampers reverse the airflow direction so that the regenerator warmed by the exhaust air now imparts heat to the incoming air, while its twin is regenerated by the warm exhaust air stream. The system is claimed to operate with 93% heat-recovery efficiency.

In summer, the building operates on a natural ventilation strategy. Each classroom has manually opening, triple-glazed windows that allow cool, fresh air to enter the room. This fresh air drives stale, warm air upwards to the transfer grille, and out into the central atrium-corridor, where large roof Iights open under control of the BM S to create a stack-driven, low-pressure, ventilation system. The effectiveness of the design was proven by modelling using IES: Virtual Environment software.

Summertime overheating of the highly insulated school is mitigated by the high thermal mass of the building fabric. In extreme circumstances, the natural ventilation system can operate overnight to remove excess heat to pre-cool the thermal mass for the following day.

In the same way that the building fabric was modularised, so too are the building services. Early involvement of the building services contractor, NG Bailey, enabled the ductwork and lighting assemblies to be supplied as modules and lifted into place. To reduce the lumen output of the lighting, the rooms all have light-coloured walls. In addition, absence detection and daylight sensors turn off lights in unoccupied spaces to minimise energy consumption.

On-site renewable sources are used to enable the school to meet the zero-carbon, in-use target Photovoltaic panels were found to be the most appropriate technology to meet the school's predicted 166,000 Wh/y energy requirement. Around 900 m' of Sanyo HIT N-235 SE10PV of PV panels are located on the south-facing pitch of the roof.  The electricity these generate is fed into the national grid.

Electricity generated by the PVs is not used to heat the hot water, although it is used for the trace-heating system, which keeps the water warm in the distribution pipe work. Instead, the hot water is heated throughout the year by a high-temperature, C02 air source heat pump, which picks up heat from the kitchen extract. Modelling showed this solution to have the lowest overall energy use of all possible options.

To enable the teaching and facilities staff to familiarise themselves with the innovative technologies and solutions employed at the school, the client specified an extended commissioning period in the contract. In addition, the team used the BSRIA Soft Landings approach for the handover and follow-up visits.

'The structure provided by this approach enabled the school staff, design team, client and contractor to work together to identify and resolve issues that - if left unsolved – would have compromised the school's low-energy operation and client's satisfaction with the scheme,' says Rea.

The design complies with the requirements of Building Bulletin 101: Ventilation of School Buildings. Unusually, the school has a 60-year design life. The scheme has been modelled by Exeter University and found to be sufficiently robust to ensure conditions remain comfortable, without overheating in the school, even as the climate changes up to 2080.

“The scheme is sufficiently robust to ensure conditions in the school remain comfortable. even as the climate changes up to 2080”

The scheme was completed in October 2011. Its measured energy performance figures are: 12 kWh/m'/year space heating and 167,358 kWh/ year total energy, including energy used in the kitchen. Despite these outstanding low-energy credentials the building has only managed a DEC band B because of its reliance on electricity for top-up heating. Monitoring has shown that, over the course of a year, the amount of electricity generated by the PVs is equal to that imported from the grid.

From the school's perspective, its carbon neutral performance means that the manager doesn't have to budget for heating and electricity costs over the coming year. Instead, any savings on the utility bills can be used to support future maintenance and educational budgets, to make the school a zero-carbon, self-sustainable, stand-alone environment of learning.

Pearson, A. (2014) ‘The full Monty’, CIBSE Journal, April 2014, pp. 4-8

CREST Hub - South West College

The new CREST centre will comprise of three areas; the Hub, the Research & Development Lab and the Pavilion. The Pavilion will be newly developed while the Hub and Research & Development lab will be integrated into the existing Skills Centre building; with the work on the Hub area recently completed.  

The Hub will form the central office area within the CREST centre and will comprise modern office and meeting space where the CREST team will meet with companies to discuss their requirements and outline the services available.

From the very outset it was made clear that sustainable design was key to the successful completion of the entire CREST project, this responsible approach was to reflect the innovative aspirations of the CREST project.  We are pleased to be associated with our client, South West College, who are striving to create a sustainable centre that will form a benchmark for construction projects in the future.

The new pavilion project is the one of the most sustainable projects in the UK and will be the first commercial building in Ireland to have the following three sustainable credentials:

  1. Passivhaus Certified for Energy efficient envelope and ventilation system
  2. BREEAM excellent in terms of the BRE sustainable benchmark for UK commercials buildings
  3. The building will also be Carbon Neutral, this means that the building can provide, by renewable energy, it own source of heat and lighting.

Whilst a combination of these sustainable criteria has been attempted in other parts of the UK, this will be the first example in Northern Ireland or Ireland and will become a benchmark building for sustainability.

The Hub element of the project comprises of several meeting rooms, a waiting area, small kitchen and computer desk.  During the fit out of the Hub office area, where ever possible and feasible, recycled components and sustainably sourced materials where used.

A palette of recycled materials has been used to decorate the meeting rooms.  Bangor blue slates, reclaimed from the Belturbet Convent of Mercy (demolished in 2008) and reclaimed Florencecourt brick from a house in Enniskilen (demolished 2008) have been re used on the walls of the meeting rooms.  Pitch pine floor boards from the Belturbet Convent of Mercy have been used to differentiate the meeting rooms from the rest of the Hub.

The reception desk of the new hub has been created using the same pitch pine as has been used on the floors of the meeting room; the desk is supported on gabions of handpicked stone from the only slate quarry in Ireland.

The timber cladding used for the cladding walls in the Hub is reclaimed scaffolding boards that were used as shuttering on the A5 road extension project.  Scaffolding racks and poles are used to support the desks and other furniture that has been created bespoke for the project.

The palette of materials combined with the exposed duct work have created an industrial warehouse type aesthetic that is illuminated with low energy lamps to further increase the sustainability criteria.  The design utilises these materials to create a tactile, efficient and user friendly hub for a functional educational facility. The project was completed in February 2014.

Does Passive House Require a New Design Language?

Architect Paul McAlister

Architect Paul McAlister

The movement of building standards towards passive house and rising fuel prices are the main initiatives driving the construction industry in the direction of certified passive house standard within Northern Ireland. It is an attractive aspiration for us within the construction and design industry to be at the forefront of low carbon design and passive house design in Northern Ireland, whilst making positive contributions to C02 emissions. Fully pursuing this standard within this industry would also open up export markets for our knowledge, skills and products, however in any potential advance towards an implementation of passive house there are many issues to be considered. The first issue is the capital cost of a passive house build. It is not possible to put a figure on the extra cost for a passive house building over a conventional building which barely complies with the 2008 Building Regulations. This would be far too simplistic. Cost depends on a whole host of variables, which includes the private residential sector, passive house clients generally insist on high quality fixtures and fittings. For example, the extra cost for passive house standard windows over standard triple glazed windows, may be due to improved functionality alongside achieving the energy standard and the criteria of passive house certification.

Those taking up the challenge and aspiring to build to passive house standard should have a clear idea of the budget limitations surrounding their project and the space requirements that budget will deliver. However, many designs, despite the best efforts to optimise design and energy modelling, will always fall short of certification. Often additional improvements which move the design towards certification don’t quite make the passive house threshold for space heating demand of 15kWh/m2/yr. Having a heat demand slightly higher than the threshold, at say 18kWh/m2/yr may have slightly higher running costs, but they are minimal when compared with capital costs of finding the final 3-5kWh in some cases. Each individual project must weigh up their capital expenditure versus running costs to decide what is best for them. When the site condi­tions and design strategy produce a performance for heat demand that falls inside the passive house criteria then certification becomes a simpler process. However if the threshold is missed by a few kilowatt hours, resulting in the design being un­able to deliver the space heating solely through the ventilation system, it may be better suited to add a secondary heat source whilst still achieving a high performance building. With unusually cooler winters predicted for the coming decade, having some extra, user-controlled, heat contributors such as the addition of a couple of radiators may be beneficial.

Another issue of the application of passive house is design, which by its nature is subjective to the client and architect. A number of bespoke, architect-designed homes are being certified within Northern Ireland, which is a promising sight. However it is difficult to imagine standard ‘off the shelf’ designs being replaced with homes designed to optimise site and energy performance. Passive house can be adapted to every conceivable style of building with the emphasis placed by the passive house modelling tool on efficient building envelopes and internal layout and orientation. This could place added expense on those restricted to single storey buildings by planning. The proposition as to whether or not ultra-low energy buildings will require a new design language and how they will contribute to urban and rural landscapes is an unknown factor. It is important that planners are educated to recognise this new typology of building that may deviate in form from designs favoured today for example, by having a design that does not necessarily face the road.

The regulatory compliance, concerned with the recognition of passive house can be an issue. The two equivalent energy performance methodologies within building regulations have shared objectives to considerably reduce energy use, but actually have conflicting methods. Passive house comes with a difficult certification process, requiring air leakage testing after completion and evidence of installed insulation. It provides a model for inspection of low energy builds to ensure that adequate attention to detail is applied. Passive house prioritises minimisation of heat loss above all else, while the SAP methodology for Part F compli­ance is not as strict on fabric and ventilation heat loss but puts a high emphasis on the use of renewables. The English version of Part L 2011 came into effect in October 2010 with enhanced standards of performance required. A proposed solution to these conflicting methodologies is that the passive house standard could be recog­nised as an alternative method of compliance with the new Part L. This could provide a pos­sible strategic move by government to support the potential of the pas­sive house building sector by moving building regulation in line with the requirement of passive house certification.

The final issue concerns knowledge of pas­sive house building procedure. There is an education process needed to show how passive house standard buildings and its retrofit equivalent EnerPHit are achieved. The responsibility of propagating this information needs to be taken up by our enthusiastic designers and architects. It would be desirable if funding for research of new, more cost-effec­tive materials and technologies is secured and buildings already complete and in use at this standard should be monitored.

The point where every new building and renovation is a certified passive house may never become a reality, however it is not the attainment of certification that's important but the aspiration to go as far as is practical within the limitations of each project. It is therefore vital to accept no less than ultra low energy buildings in an attempt to make our entire building stock practically passive house standard; this would put into practice now what building regulations will eventually catch up with in the future.

Paul McAlister

Passivhaus vs Code for Sustainable Homes

Many people appear confused about how PassivHaus and the code for sustainable homes can run in parallel, 'Does one compliment the other?’

To obtain the definitive answer, we need to remember that us that Passivhaus focuses on building fabric and performance without the use of renewable technology. Typically a PassivHaus will achieve code energy rating of level 4 or 5. This means that it is an ideal methodology for achieving the higher level of the overall code rating, whilst also minimising the cost of renewables.

Principles And Performance

The term 'PassivHaus' refers to a specific construction standard for buildings which have excellent comfort conditions in both winter and summer. These principles can be applied not only to the residential sector but also to commercial, industrial and public buildings. For houses, it is claimed that this is the world's leading standard in energy efficient construction. They are designed and built using a step-by-step approach with efficient components and a whole house ventilation system to achieve exceptionally low running costs to create something which is comfortable, healthy and sustainable.

There's an interesting article in Green Building Magazine www.greenbuildingpress.co.uk written by Justin Bere about a talk given in London by Wolfgang Feist who founded the German PassivHaus Institute in Darmstadt.

The fundamental objective of PassivHaus design is unambiguously to cut energy consumption and to provide accurate design tools to measure the expected energy consumption in a clear, accurate, numerical way. Germans really don't have time for vagueness and are aware of the requirements set out in UK Building Regulations. However many of our Code level features are incorporated, no one can circumnavigate the essential requirement to produce a building designed to use less than 15kWh/m2/annum supplementary heat and no more than 120 kWh/m2/annum primary energy [total of heating, lighting, hot water, appliances and any cooling). No box ticking wood chip boiler - nothing will let the PassivHaus architect, developer or builder circumnavigates this fundamental, verifiable bottom-line requirement for PassivHaus certification.

The simple techniques necessary to achieve PassivHaus design are: Insulation [typically 30cm thick]; PassivHaus windows [airtight, triple glazed with thoroughly insulated frames achieving an overall U-value of 0.8 including the frame]; Airtight construction [max 0.6 air changes/hr under 50 pascals pressure] with very efficient mechanical heat recovery ventilation. Assuming that these three main performance targets are met, together with detailing to eliminate cold bridging and numerous other detailed requirements prescribed by the PHPP software, it is possible to eliminate the need for a boiler and the need for radiators or underfloor heating.

Comparing certain other UK building codes with the PassivHaus approach highlights difficulties in the UK codes that have been introduced in relative haste. By contrast the PassivHaus code has passed the test of time and Dr Feist is very careful to ensure that it remains truly robust. It is the very robust nature of the concept and the software that led the RIBA in a sustainability review to originally describe PassivHaus as 'The emerging European Standard.' Now there are about 17,000 buildings have been constructed worldwide, typically achieve an energy saving of 90% compared to existing housing principles.

The NHBC Foundation and Zero Carbon Hub have published 'A practical guide to building airtight dwellings'. It brings together the experiences of those who have already got to grips with air tightness for the benefits of designers and builders who have not. It provides solutions for common air leakage paths. Clearly, changes in the Building Regulations have now made air tightness an issue which cannot be ignored.

The Denby Dale Project

Typically, PassivHaus buildings are built using timber-frame construction or blockwork wall with external render. Green Building Store has succeeded in adapting the PassivHaus approach to British traditional building methods - by creating the first certified PassivHaus in the UK to use traditional cavity wall construction. Earlier this year the Denby Dale PassivHaus project in West Yorkshire received its official PassivHaus certification.

The project - built by Green Building Store's construction division Green Building Company - has pioneered the combination of low energy PassivHaus methodology with standard British cavity wall construction and building materials. Bill Butcher, Director of Green Building Store, said, "We chose cavity wall construction because most British builders are familiar with the technique and materials could be sourced easily from any builders' merchant. Cavity wall also met Yorkshire planning requirements for stone exteriors and was affordable for our clients. In addition, masonry construction, including cavity wall, offers a 'cave effect' which acts as a thermal mass, helping to keep temperatures stable in winter and summer".

It requires minimal heating - using 90% less energy for space heating than the UK average; £141 K build cost for the 118m2 three-bed detached house. Green Building Store's technical film 'PassivHaus low energy building in the UK' for building professionals is freely downloadable from www.greenbuildingstore.co.uk. The 60 minute film covers all stages of construction of the Denby Dale project.

What are the challenges?

Achieving the required level of air tightness, minimising the risk through good design and specification.

Is it costly to build?

European experience suggests an extra 6% is likely. There are not yet enough UK houses to make a proper comparison, although BRE is advising on a London project which has achieved PassivHaus for the same cost as a typical social housing one.

Are PassivHaus products widely available?

Yes but windows have at present time to be imported; they have generally been the reason for higher costs.

Will adopting PassivHaus facilitate compliance with buildings regs and the Code for Sustainable Homes?

Yes. If a compliant design specification is derived from PHPP [the PassivHaus Planning Package] and transposed into SAP, a 30-45% improvement in carbon emissions can be realised - without the use of heat-pump, biomass or other low carbon or renewable technology.

Taking Control Of Air tightness

According to the Energy Saving Trust's Chief Executive Philip Sellwood, almost a third of new homes are still failing to meet energy efficiency guidelines. He told the BBC " ... the Government's 'Code for Sustainable Homes' is not being adequately enforced, giving cause for real concern. Our building regulations in the UK are among some of the toughest in Europe, but they are extremely poorly enforced as far as energy efficiency goes".

David Arendell, MD of roof ventilation specialist Klober feels the situation in respect of building air tightness gives grounds for even greater concern. He commented, "In the light of the EST's comments on energy efficiency, it is fair to assume that the level of understanding of how best to achieve air tight construction remains poor.

This is despite the fact that the phrase 'Build tight, ventilate right' has become synonymous with the strategy to achieve low energy buildings. If we don't understand how best to achieve the right balance of air tightness and controlled ventilation, we run the risk of perpetuating condensation problems within the roof space and building fabric. With every upgrade in insulation standards, so the risk increases.

Delays in consultation on Approved Documents Land G have prompted deferment in CSH 2010 until the end of the year, but the clock is undoubtedly ticking towards an ultimate target whereby all new homes achieve CSH Level 6 (effectively zero carbon). However, with house builders having lobbied consistently for tighter definition of how 'zero carbon' can be achieved, the Zero Carbon Task Group was set up.

There is some evidence to support such calls for redefinition. Research carried out in 2007 by the Richard Hodkinson Consultancy, for example, showed that 'PassivHaus' (a Europe-wide Standard with stringent air tightness requirements managed by the BRE and the Energy Saving Trust) would not actually meet CSH 3.

CSH assessment uses the Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) test to calculate energy performance, and for a number of years there have been questions over the efficacy of the test, especially in relation to more thermally efficient buildings.

In terms of roof design, the requirement already exists for new public sector housing to meet CSH 3. The impetus towards 'zero carbon' will be reinforced when the equivalent of CSH 3 is incorporated into Building Regulations for England and Wales (some authorities indeed have already adopted this requirement). In Scotland, where many elements of the Code have already been incorporated into Building Standards, similar improvements are planned.

Of the nine categories within the CSH method of assessment, that for 'energy and C02 emissions' is by far the most significant. This is true for both the allocation of credits within each category and the final point’s allocations that result from use of weighting factors. 29 credits are available for energy and C02 emissions which, when weighted contributes 36.4% to the total available performance.

The right balance between air tightness and ventilation can certainly be struck without significant addition to building costs. Material choice however, can greatly influence a building's long-term air tightness. Sheet membrane air barriers coupled with sealants, for example, are more effective than sealants alone, counteracting the effects of buildings (particularly timber frame) drying out.

Housing designers can now benefit from Accredited Construction Details (ACDs), Enhanced Construction details (ECDs) and, in Scotland, the Scottish Ecological Design Association Guide for both warm and cold roof construction. Examples of wall/ceiling ACDs include a junction of ceiling level air barrier with masonry inner leaf and warm roof with room in the roof. Accredited detail Sheet MCI RE 02, for example, shows a warm roof detail at the eaves in a non-habitable loft using Klober Permo forte vapor permeable underlay and appropriate tapes (with an alternative pre-taped option).

For non-residential construction, air tightness is just as important, despite the absence of any CSH equivalent. Roofing materials such as zinc, for example, require airtight construction if the metal's underside is unventilated. At the recently build Abergwynfi primary school near Neath, built to achieve a BREEAM 'Excellent' rating, zinc was used on a series of circular roofs. A Klober Wallint air barrier was installed with sealing tape to meet the specified air tightness performance.

With current Building Regulation requirements stipulating air tightness of only 7m3/hr per m2 compared with CSH 3 at 3m3, techniques used to achieve it must undoubtedly change. CPD presentations and literature on the subject are to be welcomed. 'The Code for sustainable Homes and air tightness in roofs' is a CPD presentation from Klober examining how to 'build tight and ventilate right' within the realms of practical pitched roofing construction. Supported by ‘Taking control of air leakage' www.klober.co.uk/air tightness it is a welcome source of information on a subject for which information is otherwise lacking.

By David Arendell, MD of Klober

The Low Carbon Buildings Programme - Energy Saving Trust

If you are a householder in Northern Ireland interested in generating your own heat or electricity, you can apply for a renewable technology grant of up to £2,500 per property. The Low Carbon Buildings Programme incentivises householders interested in fitting their own green energy systems, such as solar photovoltaic’s, wind turbines, small hydro, solar thermal water, ground source heat pumps and Bio energy, by providing grants to contribute towards the cost of installation.

The Programme is funded by the Department of Energy and Climate Change and managed by the Energy Saving Trust. Many people claim that they want to do their bit to help tackle climate change but are put off by the costs associated with renewable technology. By taking advantage of the grants available through the Low Carbon Buildings Programme, homeowners will find small renewable technologies a more affordable option. By installing micro generation technologies, homeowners will not only play a vital role in tackling climate change but will also save themselves money in the long run.

Noel Williams, Head of the Energy Saving Trust Northern Ireland commented: "I am pleased that householders in Northern Ireland have already applied for grants to install green energy technologies through the Low Carbon Buildings Programme and hope that even more people will follow in their footsteps and reduce their carbon footprint."

To be eligible for a grant through the Low Carbon Buildings Programme, consumers must choose a certified product and have it installed by a certified installer.

Energy Saving Issues Addressed

NEW energy performance certificates will be compulsory as part of buying a house and architect, Paul McAlister gives his advice and answers your questions. "As an architect I have noticed clients' growing concerns regarding their buildings' energy efficiency. The primary motivation for these concerns are, a wish to preserve our environment, to combat reliance on fossil fuels and decrease our carbon footprints." On the other hand, when presented with the seemingly exponential rise in fuel bills, energy efficiency becomes more than just an abstract idea." In line with these growing concerns, the introduction of compulsory energy performance certificates (EPC's) in Northern Ireland completes the obligation placed by an ED directive on all member states to help improve efficiency.

What are Energy Performance Certificates?

The EPC is similar to the certificates which are currently supplied with household appliances such as refrigerators. It provides each building with two ratings from A (very efficient) to G (very inefficient). The first is based on the performance of the building and its services (i.e. heating and lighting) while the second assesses the building's environmental impact in terms of its carbon dioxide (C 0 2 ) emissions. The certificate also provides a list of recommendations on how to improve your building's rating tailored to its size, age and location.

Why do I need an EPC?

Energy performance certificates will be a legal requirement for anyone wishing to build, sell or rent a property. Also, the certificate is designed to make it much easier to compare the efficiency of different buildings. High efficiency translates into low running costs so if your property achieves a good rating, this will become a unique selling point, making it much more attractive to potential buyers. The penalty for failing to make an EPC available can be anywhere in the region of £500 - £5,000, depending on the value of the property:

When do they come into effect?

EPC's will be compulsory for all house sales in Northern Ireland from the end of June. They will be required for all new constructions from the end of September and all rentals and non-domestic property sales by the end of the year.

How do I improve my rating?

One of the most effective means of reducing your growing utility bills is to replace old boilers with new, more efficient ones this can cut heating costs by some 40 per cent. Fitting double or triple glazing can effectively reduce heat loss while cutting down outside noise levels. Fitting insulation or lagging to hot water pipes and tanks, insulating loft spaces, filling gaps in floorboards and insulating any unfilled cavity walls can all contribute to dramatically improving your efficiency and therefore increasing your EPC rating. It will not be possible to achieve an A rated home without employing various sustainable technologies such as rainwater harvesting and solar water heating.

An architect will be able to provide you with advice on how to build your home to achieve an A-B rating.

Paul is the founder of Paul McAlister Architects based in a converted Barn near Portadown. The practice has vast experience in designing bespoke homes, developments, renovation projects, and energy conscious design. You can contact the practice by email at info@pmcarchitects.com.