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Building in the European Union…
A European Approach
Nearly eight months into my stay in Ireland I have learned a lot about living in Europe. Apart from the economic challenges other changes are also obvious. The following are my observations of the EU’s approach to energy conservation in the built environment .
Germany is without doubt the prime mover in the European Union. Although policy is directed by Brussels it generally has its origins in German ingenuity. The EU keeps a tight control on most policies and issues directives that the member countries are obliged to act upon within their own Government framework. While this might seem inconsistent with the open market aspirations of the original European Economic Community (EEC) it has merit and gets things done.
This approach has identified the environment as a major consideration in all policy matters. The EU believes that climate change is a reality and a real threat to the economic stability of its members. It considers the impact of doing nothing a significant threat and has chosen instead to act now. As a result the environment is a key consideration when developing policies and the EU’s objective is for all of the member states to have a consistent approach at a local level. For instance it has a green procurement policy that promotes low impact materials choice for all Government sectors (http://ec.europa.eu/environment/gpp/index_en.htm). It is developing a uniformed rating tool for all commercial building existing and new across the union. It is doing this in conjunction with the World Green Building Council. I was fortunate enough to be part of a workshop run by the WGBC on the new tool. The commitment is clear and the time lines are short.
Additionally it has a documented performance level for residential housing and has required member states to develop building codes that mandate energy performance levels not unlike Australia’s Part J in the NCC. Where it differs from the Australian model is in the required levels of compliance and the regime of verification in place to ensure that compliance is met. Australia can learn a lot from this approach. See: http://www.thefifthestate.com.au/innovation/building-construction/australias-building-energy-efficiency-system-is-broken/70863?utm_source=The+Fifth+Estate+-+newsletter&utm_campaign=e205aa6f94-22_January_2015&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_5009254e4c-e205aa6f94-30743165
PassivHaus (Passive House)
As stated above, Germany is a major driver of change. When quality is discussed in any product from cars to white goods Germany seems to be the default. Everyone acknowledges that the Germans just do it better. It is not surprising then to learn that a German rating tool PassivHaus (PH) is getting significant traction amongst the member states. PH is a comprehensive building process that focuses on energy efficiency through a well sealed, insulated home. (http://www.passivhausplaner.eu/index.php?lang=en-GB0. ). In the first two weeks of March, I will be attending a two week intensive training course in Germany as a guest of the EU. While there I will be looking at the applications of PassivHaus in timber construction, visiting certified houses, undertaking workshops including smoke testing for air tightness, air change simulation and computer modelling.
When I return from Germany I will undertake PassivHaus Designer/Consultant training and energy modelling using specific software. It is important to appreciate that PH is now a globally used tool. China, America, New Zealand and many of the EU member countries use this tool to ensure that their building stock is designed and constructed to perform to the most rigorous levels of energy performance. The tool is suitable for all climate zones irrespective of the hemisphere and has been very successfully adopted in Shanghai which has one of the highest number of certified buildings amongst major cities. Shanghai’s climate is not dissimilar to Brisbane. It doesn’t mean we can’t open our windows and doors but it does mean that when they are closed and the air conditioning is on they are extremely effective at stopping heat transfer through the building envelope. Additionally a high emphasis is put on air quality within the building to ensure that the air changes frequently and the quality of air is high.
Ecolateral to offer PassivHaus Certification
As a result of this training I will be offering PassivHaus Certification as part of Ecolateral’s service when I return later in 2015. This tool has international recognition and is likely to become a benchmark for building performance in the future. I will provide an update following training and will be happy to address any questions you may have on the tool at that time.
This tool has the potential to change the way we approach building and allow us to create a building stock that is world class.