Over 200 Irish construction professionals recently descended on Enniscorthy in Wexford for the first nZEBRA Housing conference, a one day event which was focused on the upcoming legislation changes which will see nearly zero energy buildings (nZEB) standards come into law.
In our conference preview, we predicted that the need for skills development, and concerns about the cost implications of delivering nZEB would be a focus for the day, and we were not wrong.
From a very insightful and informative day, we’ve rounded up what we see as the five key outtakes from the conference
nZEB is coming down the track very rapidly, but the Irish construction sector is very unfamiliar with the legislation and what it means in terms of design and detailing. There was a unanimous welcome for the conference insofar as shining a light on an imminent issue which will affect every player in the construction sector, but there is a real knowledge gap which must be addressed, and quickly.
We’re familiar with this problem, and our Technical Team are working with construction professionals across the country, delivering thermal bridging CPD seminars which show how effective thermal bridging solutions can help easily achieve nZEB standards.
Some local authorities are marching ahead on delivering nZEB, most particularly Wexford but also Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown. Tom Enright, Chief Executive of Wexford County Council, spoke at the conference, presenting the details of Wexford’s first nZEB local authority scheme.
These councils are proving that nZEB is feasible, achievable and affordable, and their example is one which will be followed.
This is the message which everyone really wants to hear. Fear of the unknown typically creates concerns. In the case of construction, many attendees to the conference likely assumed that achieving nZEB would be difficult and expensive. The conference proved beyond doubt that experienced designers and contractors can deliver nZEB at cost parity.
The fact that Wexford County Council bought 8 nZEB and certified Passive House dwellings for social housing underscores the affordability argument.
This ties in with our first point, that all players need to educate themselves on how to deliver nZEB effectively in order to avoid unnecessary cost increases. In the case of nZEB, the devil certainly is in the detail.
With nZEB requirements set to affect many conference delegates on a practical level, focus turns to concerns about cost, learning requirements, and implementation. For some, it can become an unwelcome disruption, rather than a positive move to deliver more sustainable buildings.
Dr. Shane Colclough from Ulster University presented monitoring research results which provided an impressive reminder that moving towards more sustainable building practices is better for the end user, which we must not lose sight of.
The research results showed that Passive House construction quality brings a lot of benefits to the homeowner, with more comfort due to more uniform interior temperatures, improved indoor air quality, and lower energy bills, resulting in a reduced overall cost of ownership.
Achieving nZEB will require a shift in attitude of designers and contractors in the direction of quality of detailing, design and execution on site. Designers and contractors urgently need to embrace new technologies, materials and methods in order to achieve the most cost-effective nZEB projects.
It is also vital that the specification in the design is what is delivered on-site to ensure standards are upheld. It is common in the Irish construction industry for specified materials to be substituted with an alternative by the builder or contractor on site.
If the substitute material is equal to the specified material in terms of performance, then the performance of the building should also be on a par. However, the substitution of materials with others which do not meet the same standards may jeopardise the compliance of the building.
As an example, if Quinn Lite blocks are specified in the building design to combat thermal bridging, there is no alternative block manufactured in Ireland which will deliver the same thermal performance. So, any substitution with a lightweight aggregate block, for example, could result in a finished building which doesn’t comply with nZEB requirements.
The content of the conference certainly resonated with the audience, with many delegates taking immediate steps to address their own educational needs by booking their thermal bridging CPD seminars, and speaking with our Technical Team about specifying Quinn Lite thermal blocks in their building designs.
To enquire about or book a thermal bridging CPD seminar for your practice, visit our CPD area, or contact the Technical Team on +44 28 67748866 or Technical@quinn-buildingproducts.com.