Mark Wilson MCIAT
Building Design Expert
Benjamin Franklin said "... in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes". Had he lived at the beginning of this century he may have thrown in "… and a 20-25% increase in the carbon emissions standards under Part L of the Building Regulations"; because for a long time that was almost carved in the stone pillars that hold up Whitehall; well, from around the start of the decade when we realised we needed to start taking energy conservation just a little more seriously at any rate.
But at least we knew where we stood. Manufacturers for a long time raced to stand still, as they revved up their R and D departments to develop the technology needed to meet the challenge thrown down by the government in those Building Regulations. And now, just when we're cruising, the latest announcement for amendment of the industry thermometer that is Part L, see's an almost lacklustre 6% increase on domestic, and circa 9% increase on non domestic projects. So not only was the announcement, in industry terms, months late; it seems that, as part of Whitehall's own in-house energy saving regime, someone had turned the oven way down low, such that the whole pie came out no more than half baked.
It begs the question as to why the DCLG spent more of our money commissioning the 2012 consultation on Changes to the Building Regulations, when the options on that table were either 8% or 26% uplift in 'New Home' CO2 reductions from the 2010 levels. The government made it plain they favoured the 8% option from the start. The new Part L will provide 6%. But that wasn't an option was it? No, but don't feel you have to fuel this fire, when it is actually self-igniting.
Children up and down the land are listening to a similar fairy tale for non domestic buildings. The consultation put forward choices of 11% or 20% uplift on CO2 targets. "And the winner is…..9%" The book makers must have made a fortune!!
As far as those in charge are concerned, it seems that it's a game of consequences. The Secretary of State for DCLG got in a bit of a pickle over 'consequential improvements', and this half empty glass is being passed around the table at a rate of knots. The consequences of this latest decision reduces the step towards 'zero carbon' homes by 2016, from a full manly stride to a little playground bunny hop; leaving the industry perplexed and asking How? We have the time, perhaps? But the next leap to a potentially slippery stepping stone is going to be a little larger than previous, and of course the waters are rising.
At the end of every energy fuelled day it remains all about cost, and not about the altruistic facade of the environmental stage set. Can we afford the let the construction moguls continue to wipe the sweat from their furrowed sweaty brows; continuing to reap the benefits of a just in time system that dare not put a toe nail out of place, lest the industry again lose its tenuous grip as it climbs out of one of the deepest holes it has been in for a very long time. Ultimately the choice is; we, the all consuming tax payer becoming punch drunk with the constant jabs associated with the seemingly exponential rise in energy prices; or, should we ceremoniously present our chins for what could be a knock out blow in an effort to meet the increased costs of saving energy. It is a double edged sword with only one cutting edge.
The new Part L was recently published on 21 October, and the devil remains in the detail. We need to start taking heed of its content on 6 April 2014, and that detail will no doubt provide a number of twists and turns, if only to avoid the rocks that have already been thrown. As ever, the government, playing politics will ensure that there are a suitable number of transitional hoops to take us past the next election in 2015 before the full effect of the new regs are felt. Then of course the clock is re-set, and we start the next five year cycle of trying to fit square pegs into round holes, and when they get stuck half way it will all be someone else's fault.
Contributor: Mark Wilson MCIAT started his career in January 1985 as a member of the Society of Architectural and Associated Technicians, and now represents himself under the heading – Chartered Architectural Technologist.
He has run his own practice for the past 13 years, having spent the previous time working for various Architects and Developers on a wide variety of projects. You can find about more about him via www.buildingdesignexpert.com or Twitter