Building Energy Ratings (BER) have been with us for quite a while at this stage. Since 2009, every property for sale or rent must have a BER certificate. Since 2007, those building their own homes have need a BER before moving in. In that time, there have been a lot of assessments, a lot of results and a lot of laminated certificates filed away in the drawer (you know that drawer… the one where we used to keep the plastic bag stash). So, how did we all do? What’s the pass/fail rate like? Well, I guess you can’t really ‘fail’ the BER – it’s the taking part that counts, really. With well over half a million BER assessments conducted to date, read on to have a look at some of the interesting results.
As part of our own journey to design and build our own home, we started to navigate the research minefield of energy regulations, measurements and acronyms. Trying to get your head around u-values for example is great fun (if solving blackboard-sized equations are some of your happier memories from your schooldays..) So when we had to get into some detail for the specifications for the design of the house, I thought that the well-known BER acronym would be a friendly face in the midst of all these mathematical formulae.
Having an energy-efficient home was one of the main objectives we had when setting out to design our own home. Therefore, it was clear that we would want to achieve a high BER rating, so why not go for an A1 rating? I knew that was in the realm of Passive House levels of energy efficiency so perhaps that was a little ambitious – especially when considering the ‘finite budget factor’ (FBF as it will be now known..). Equally, I knew that there was an expectation of achieving A ratings on new builds. A quick glance at the typical expected BER ratings (see table below) provided by the Sustainable Energy Association of Ireland (SEAI), meant that an A rating was a realistic expectation.
You only have to look at the recent news that Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council is proposing that all new houses should be built to passive house standard to see this trend towards energy efficiency.
Well that’s all great. The future will be full of A students when it comes to BER certification. But what about the current housing stock? A Passivehouse Plus magazine article brought me to the great big online drawer where all those BER certificates live. The SEAI maintains a register of BER assessments. An analysis of over half a million properties produces some interesting findings.
Health Warning Bit: Please note that the numbers below are based on a download of data from the register at a point in time. It may not be 100% accurate. I’m not a statistician or anything but I can use a calculator and ( bits of) Excel.
So the results of the SEAI jury are in.
Not a very pretty sight is it? It looks a bit like the results for honours maths in the Leaving Certificate over the last few years. A few high achievers, a few more doing OK, but a lot struggling to get into the good grades. The fact that only 5,000 homes achieved an A rating was the stat that jumped off the page. Within that cohort, only thirteen (yes, 13!) had achieved an A1 rating. In Ireland, we probably have as many Eurovision winners as we have A1 rated homes. I could be wrong about the Eurovision, I stopped counting when we chose a turkey as our representative.
Almost two-thirds of the housing stock have a rating of C or D. That’s a lot of (expensive) warm air sneaking out through windows, doors, roofs and walls. That’s a lot of energy going up in smoke, never to be seen again.
The not-so-surprising information in the register is the confirmation of the fact that the Irish love to live in a house. Not a home, but a house. Only 20% of BER assessments have been carried out on apartments – the remaining majority are all houses of some hue.
The register also includes the year of construction for each property assessed. From this we can see that the number of properties constructed increases steadily through the decades of the 20th century. A noticeable spike occurs during the Celtic Tiger/Boom period before the numbers drop dramatically at the start of the current decade.
So what does it take to get to the top of the pile? A lot of insulation, a lot of attention to detail and a lot of hard work, it seems. Here are two separate case studies of passive houses constructed in Ireland over the last few years.
The first house (left) in Wexford is a member of the very exclusive club of homes with an A1 BER certificate. There is a good overview of the project on the website of Winkens Architecture including plenty of detailed photos.
Dogfooding (go on, google it…) is a term more associated with the world of software rather than the construction industry.
So it was interesting to see a principal in a construction firm (Magner Homes) building his own house to passive house standards.
The project was covered in an issue of Passive house plus magazine. You can read some more about the project on the website of Nilan Ireland who provided the ventilation system for the project.
A common theme in the design and construction of these and other energy-efficient projects is to reduce and minimise heat loss where possible.
The chief culprits for heat loss are the roof, walls, floor, doors and of course, the windows.The u value is a measure for how much heat is escaping. A lower u value means less heat escapes (Good) and a higher value means more heat is leaking through (Baaaaaad). The building regulations have targeted lower u-values in recent years. However, the BER assessments have revealed very high u-values in most Irish homes. The vast majority of properties in the register were well above these regulation targets of recent years (see windows u value chart)
The future looks bright and it will be interesting to revisit these stats in 10-15 years to see how many more make it to the A grade. So my ambitious dream of having an A1 rated home, may have to remain just that – a dream – for a while longer. Given that there are only 13 homes in existence in the country with an A1 rating, I feel like I would have to make a formal application to join this exclusive club. I envisage a harsh interview process – a bit like the grilling that prospective tenants get from existing tenants apartment buildings in New York. No, that all seems a bit too exclusive for my liking, maybe I’ll try my hand at Eurovision songwriting instead…
Comments, corrections and suggestions welcome in the comments section below.