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Face up to the energy challenge

AGENDA Viewpoint

Is the UK ready for the Energy Performance Buildings Directive? asks Roger Watts

ENERGY use in the construction and running of buildings accounts for 40 per cent of all energy consumption and a third of greenhouse gas emissions in Europe.The EU's answer to the problem is the Energy Performance Buildings Directive.

From January 4 2006, all residential, commercial and industrial buildings in the UK will need an energy performance certificate no more than 10 years old every time they are bought, sold, or rented.EU member states are allowed some exceptions, such as places of worship, although the UK Government has not yet clarified what exceptions it will make.

The new rules will have a huge impact on property.Property values and building design, renovation and investment decisions are all likely to be influenced.

To achieve this, a uniform way of calculating the energy performance of buildings has to be adopted. Currently, Part L of the Building Regulations is our guide, although other specialist packages are available.Government proposals are working towards a design tool to assist in the production of a rating.But it is not certain that the Government will adopt this route.And even if it does, I doubt it will be available by 2006.

How the Government intends to proceed on revisions to Part L should be made public in the summer.That gives the professional community just six months to become fully conversant with the new requirements.

Some phasing has to be anticipated. I cannot believe building works will cease in January 2006 for all the schemes to be reviewed under the new Part L.

All new buildings will be required to meet the new standards.Major schemes currently going through the planning process could experience difficulties. Innovative buildings involving large quantities of glazing are likely to be affected.Developers and designers of office buildings will have to reconsider their priorities when taking a scheme forward after January 2006. Buildings over 1,000 sq m being refurbished will also have to meet minimum energy performance standards.

But the real challenge is the certification of buildings.This will require primary legislation. It must be doubted that this could be passed in time for implementation in January 2006.The critical issue at this stage is that, less than a year away, we have no idea what a certificate will look like or what information will be required.

We will struggle with the asset ratings and operational ratings for existing buildings. It is likely that introduction will need to be phased in.

Shortage of accredited experts to carry out ratings is another hurdle to overcome.The energy community and professional bodies are pressing for the creation of structured training courses. It is inevitable compliance with parts of the Directive cannot occur by January 2006.

But not all is doom and gloom. New-build dwellings already have a standard assessment procedure.The development of a reduced SAP rating for existing buildings is also well advanced. Compliance within these sectors can probably be achieved on time.

Widespread ignorance of the directive and its timescale exist and many of the concepts will be new to property-owners.There will inevitably be resistance to such fundamental changes.With that in mind, RICS will be running an awareness-raising campaign for members and the public on an issue which seems - so far - to be the best kept secret in property.

Roger Watts is a partner of Trident Building Consultancy and sits on a number of RICS committees