The government is pointing some big legislative guns at the built environment and we need to be ready, says Lochinvar’s Product Manager, Steve Addis*.
Whenever the government says it is getting serious about it decarbonisation agenda, it is usually swiftly attacked for failing to deliver.
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) continues to lament the slow pace of change and, most recently, has highlighted the lack of design innovation in homes and commercial buildings that is leaving us in the slow lane and with a growing overheating issue.
However, the amount of planned legislation aimed squarely at the built environment suggest we are in for a period of real change in the coming years designed to finally address a number of persistent failures. The agenda is being set by two overarching policy documents:
Last November, the government introduced its Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution followed the next month by the CCC’s Sixth Carbon Budget. Despite the order of publication, the government’s Plan follows the recommendations of the CCC Budget very closely (safe to say that it had a sneak preview).
These two documents take in the whole UK economy. However, from the building services point of view, they set out some important policy directions, including:
* The decarbonisation of heating: The UK relies heavily on fossil fuels (largely natural gas) for our space and hot water heating. The government wants to switch mainly to electric heating (because of our greener grid) through heat pumps with some elements of hydrogen in the mix.
* Design requirements for buildings to work with these new heating technologies: Design standards for buildings will have to change to reflect low-temperature heating systems. Buildings will be ‘zero carbon ready.’
* Higher standards for products.
Two further documents reflect the government focus on building design and operation: The Future Homes Standard and the Future Buildings Standard. These documents are the result of extensive consultation with industry on several proposals that will eventually inform updates to Parts L (conservation of fuel and power) and Part F (ventilation) of the Building Regulations for dwellings and non-dwellings.
The Future Buildings Standard sets out as its primary objective to: “Deliver highly efficient non-domestic buildings which use low-carbon heat, ensuring they are better for the environment and fit for the future.”
Key proposals included are:
* To decarbonise new non-domestic buildings, all heat and hot water needs should be met through low-carbon systems. Buildings constructed to the Future Buildings Standard will need to use low-carbon heating and hot water systems to meet carbon and primary energy targets in almost all circumstances.
* Technologies highlighted in the standard consultation document are heat pumps, heat networks, and some direct electric heating (mainly for water heating). Hydrogen is mentioned but not currently regarded as an immediately viable technology.
* New building fabric standards will reflect the shift in heating technologies to low-carbon sources such as heat pumps.
The government recognises that since the next iteration of Part L is not due until 2025, developers may attempt to introduce new projects quickly under the current rules. To curtail this possibility, the government will introduce an interim uplift to Part L requirements.
The Standard has two possible figures in mind: a 22% reduction in CO2 on average per building over the current Part L 2013 requirements. The alternative is a 27% reduction. Government favours the more ambitious figure as it feels this would put the industry on a better course to meet even higher targets in 2025.
As the Standard notes: “We expect that the increase in carbon and primary energy targets in the 2021 standard will drive a large proportion of developers to phase out fossil-fuels now, ahead of the introduction of the Future Buildings Standard.”
Products used in buildings are also under scrutiny as the government seeks to squeeze every drop out of their energy-saving potential for decarbonisation. There has been a consultation on Energy-related Products regulation in the UK, particularly how the spirit of the EU regulation might be continued post-Brexit. Boilers and waters heaters are under consideration and likely to be among the first groups affected.
The government published industry responses to the consultation in March 2021. Its objective is to create “a world-class policy framework” for energy-related products later this year (2021) to include more detail on future policy and ambition.
Another significant development for product manufacturers and suppliers is the proposed Code for Construction Product Information (CCPI). The Construction Products Association (CPA) developed the draft document in response to the 2018 Hackitt Report into the Grenfell tragedy.
The CCPI aims to tackle shortcomings in product information that Dame Judith Hackitt identified as a significant safety issue for the construction industry. The CPA’s document sets out to establish a “level playing field” to communicate product information.
Manufacturers who follow the Code must supply product data that is: Clear, Accurate, Up-to-date, Accessible and Unambiguous.
Consultation on the proposed Code closed in March. There is now an organisation (Construction Product Information Ltd) responsible for administering and managing the CCPI. And end-to-end assessment and verification process is in development and will be launched later in 2021.
This points towards a new regulatory climate for everyone operating in the commercial heating field. While there is a clear focus on manufacturers and their ability to provide accurate and meaningful product data to ensure projects can be compliant; there is equally an implied focus on the technical competence of the contractors and consulting engineers charged with the crucial design and installation aspects of these projects.
When the Hackitt Review talked about ‘culture change’ to reset the relationship between the construction industry and the people who occupy buildings, it was referring to the complete supply chain and its ability to take a systemic approach to projects in order to deliver a safer final product.
That aspiration is now being enshrined in separate pieces of proposed legislation in a clear attempt to cement higher standards in law.
This is all to be backed up by a new enforcement regime spearheaded by the first ever Chief Inspector of Buildings Peter Baker. He will head up the Building Safety Regulator (BSR), which will oversee efforts to improve the competence of all building industry professionals and be responsible for the entire building safety environment.
Baker will also be the first ever head of the building control profession, and lead the work to provide independent, expert advice to industry, government, landlords and residents on building safety.
That appointment is soon to be followed by a National Regulator for Construction Products to improve testing, certification, and labelling, who will have the power to remove products that fail to come up to scratch from the market.
All of this does, therefore, suggest the government is getting serious about making legislative changes stick this time – after many frustrated attempts in the past – and we should all embrace these concerted efforts to improve professionalism and deliver better outcomes for our clients.
However, we should also be under no illusion about the challenge this new regime poses to anyone involved in commercial building services projects and make sure we are ready by aiming for those standards now. We cannot afford to wait, in the words of Dame Judith: “To have our collar felt by the regulator(s)”.
If you have any questions about anything arising from this article you can contact Steve Addis on firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also contact our sales team with any project related enquiries here.