What makes properties greener?

Phil Brown, European regulatory marketing manager at Pilkington UK, gives an update on what’s driving the energy-efficiency agenda at a regulatory and legislative level.

Since the government jettisoned its zero carbon homes policy a couple of years ago, the glass and glazing industry has been looking for positive regulation and policy change to help drive the energy-efficient market forward.

Encouraging the widespread take-up of advanced energy-efficient glazing in residential property is no walk in the park. While it’s clear that society is becoming more mindful of its impact on the planet, and the need to use less energy, macro factors like consumer confidence in the quality of energy-efficient building products still hinder the pace of UK homes becoming greener.

While sustainability is a hot topic for the public, homeowner demand alone isn’t currently enough of a ‘pull’ to drive efficiency increases in residential property. In the short term, action is coming in the form of initiatives pushed by government and industry.

There is plenty of activity that has the potential to drive the market forward over the next few years. But each initiative comes with possible shortcomings that make guaranteed success questionable.

In last November’s edition of this magazine, I discussed the development of a new government-endorsed ‘Each Home Counts’ quality mark for energy-efficient building products. At the time, the details were still being fine-tuned, but we now have more detail on the shape and form it will take.

Each Home Counts is a consumer protection initiative, designed to build trust and safeguard homeowners’ investments in making their properties energy-efficient. The quality mark is designed to ensure that energy-efficient building products are of a high standard, and that suppliers comply with codes of conducts and dispute processes.

This month, Trustmark plans to launch the scheme to early adopters, with final launch plans to be approved in September, ready for official launch in October. So, it may not be until this time next year that we can really judge its impact on the market.

While the jury’s still out, the big question is whether the scheme will prove to be more attractive to householders than the original Green Deal. But, with government workshops on the scheme seeing high attendance, it’s an initiative gauging a lot of interest by the industry.

I’ve also previously written in Glass Times about the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard (MEES), which was implemented on April 1, and how it featured loopholes that could hinder it from delivering any significant pick-up in energy-efficient glazing adoption.

The new standard prohibits landlords from granting a tenancy to new or existing tenants if the property has an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating below band E. But thousands of landlords could be exempt if they can prove that special funding from Green Deal loans or Energy Company Obligation (ECO) schemes, for example, is not available in their area.

Although it’s still early days for the standard, its ultimate impact is questionable. Evidence has shown that many properties are still not compliant with MEES. Research carried out by real-estate software provider arbnco shows that 18% of the 3,620 buildings registered on the company’s estates platform achieved a low Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating. Nearly 15% of the properties were rated F or G, deeming them ‘sub-standard’.

To look at this optimistically, perhaps we could still be due a spurt in orders for energy-efficient glazing from this sector. Although, realistically, it seems this legislation won’t act as much of a market driver in the short-term.

One potentially significant initiative is the revision of Part L in England, the set of building regulations that concerns the energy performance of new and existing buildings. But with its consultation only rumoured to be at the end of this year, pressure is forming for initiatives that deliver better energy-efficiency to our building stock, both old and new, sooner.

For example, the mayor of Liverpool and city council leaders in Leeds and Peterborough were among a group of local authorities that wrote to the government last month in an attempt to influence its re-write of national planning guidelines. It was an attempt to spark the construction of thousands more low-carbon homes, with the group demanding that the document do more to drive developers towards greener building practices.

At a European level, industry body Glass for Europe is working to push the market forward through supporting the objective of a decarbonised building stock in the EU by 2050, and all new buildings to be nearly zero energy by 2020. Glass for Europe has also been supporting the new EPBD, the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, which is the EU’s main legislation aimed at improving the energy performance of buildings. It’s revision now details how member states need to consider wider benefits of energy-efficient glazing as part of their long term renovation plans relative to health, safety and air quality.

There is plenty of activity geared towards encouraging homeowners and landlords to refurbish properties to become more energy-efficient, and for developers to build new homes with sustainability in mind. However, the shortcoming of these initiatives may prevent much of an impact in the short term, and it may be years until these initiatives deliver a noticeably greener built environment in the UK.