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A Nearly Zero Energy Building (NZEB): What Does It Mean for You?

From November 2019, all new homes are required to fulfill NZEB standards, and remodels also have to meet new energy requirements. But what does this mean for you, if you are building a new house or planning major renovations to your home?

In this article, we go through the main features of the NZEB regulations for new builds and renovations and the best ways to ensure you meet them.

What are the NZEB requirements for new builds?

The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) is the European Union’s primary legislation covering the improvement of the energy performance of buildings within the community. It stipulates that all new builds must be NZEB by 2021.

In response, the Irish government introduced amendments to Part L and Part F of the Building Regulations, giving effect to NZEB Regulations and Major Renovation Regulations and changes to ventilation requirements.

What this means for new homes is that they must be 60% more energy-efficient than their 2008 equivalents. Improved energy performance applies to the fabric, services, and lighting specifications of the building. They should have a typical Building Energy Rating (BER) of A2. (Previously, new builds had a BER requirement of A3). The directive states that 20% of the total energy use of your new build be derived from renewable sources.

Renewable sources are also mandatory. At least 20% of the primary energy use should derive from renewable sources, but if the building is more energy-efficient than the regulations stipulate, the 20%-rule can be relaxed to the equivalent of an A3 Building Energy Rating.

What about renovations?

Anybody who has shivered through an Irish winter will know that most older housing stock is not energy efficient. However, with the new regulations, major renovations to existing buildings should result in a BER rating of at least B2. Major renovations are defined as renovations involving more than 25% of the surface “envelope” of the building. The “envelope” is the combined area of every surface of the house where heat can escape, including external walls, windows, doors, ground floor, and roof or ceiling.

Get a BER Rating completed on any building

Before you get started on any major renovations, the first thing you should do is get a BER rating completed on the building. Not only will this give you an idea of the scale of improvements you need to make to get to a B2, it will also provide you with a custom plan for optimising the energy efficiency of your house—based on type, orientation, and aspect. The report should detail the materials you will need to make your house compliant with the new regulations and give you an outline of costs.

Ask your assessor about the grants available from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and how to qualify for them. You may be eligible for grants of up to €400 for home improvements designed to increase energy efficiency (e.g., insulation), but you must hire an SEAI-approved contractor to do the work.

Ensure you have a generous budget

The older your home, the more expensive it is going to be to renovate in line with the NZEB regulations. If your home achieves a G rating in your BER assessment, for example, you will need to either dryline all interior walls, floors, or ceilings, or budget for external insulation (approximately €150 per square metre). Even internal insulation and associated paintwork will cost you about €70 per square metre.

That’s before you factor in the cost of new windows, attic insulation, and a new energy-efficient boiler to meet the 90% efficiency requirement. If you are hoping to conserve a traditional old farmhouse with solid, lime-washed walls, you will need to think about breathable internal insulation and traditional-style windows at a bare minimum. The expense starts to balloon quickly, so you need to talk to an architectural technologist or similar professional before you start anything to make sure your project is properly costed.

A good rule of thumb when planning your renovation budget is to set aside three-quarters of it for upgrading the structure, layout, and energy efficiency.

A note about open fires

Can you have an open fire in your NZEB renovation? The answer is, probably not. Open fires are undoubtedly comforting and cosy, but they are completely inefficient. A chimney is a hole in your roof that sucks heat out of your house, and when you light a fire, three-quarters of the heat escapes.

If you really want to have an open fire and meet the NZEB regulations, you will need to compensate for its poor energy rating with costlier measures to help you achieve a higher BER rating.

What are the benefits of NZEB?

It’s true: Complying with the NZEB regulations can be expensive, especially if you are renovating. But there are some really worthwhile benefits that certainly outweigh the expense and effort of the initial outlay:

Lower energy bills

Here’s an eye-opening statistic from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government: It estimates that the typical A-rated, three-bedroom, semi-detached home will cost about €800 less per year to heat than a similar house built before 2005. It’s clear that your initial investment in energy-efficiency measures will pay you back generously in years to come

Better health

World Health Organisation guidelines from 2009 point out that the improved indoor air quality of energy-efficient buildings offers improved comfort and wellbeing for their residents and improve health. The International Energy Agency has reported better health as the biggest benefit of energy efficiency improvements in residential buildings.

Lower greenhouse gas emissions

About 40% of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions are from buildings. With the stipulation that new buildings must improve their BER rating from A3 to A2, the new legislation will result in a 70% improvement in carbon emissions levels on 2005.

Where can I get help?

It’s a lot to take in, especially if you are tackling a major renovation. The best way to approach your refurbishment project and ensure you meet NEZB requirements is to consult a professional who can tell you what you need to do and the easiest, most cost-effective way to do it.

Contact us for a no-obligation consultation and we will set you on the right path.

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