Call for clarity on energy performance of buildings


The Royal Society of Ulster Architects (RSUA) has written to the Finance Minister requesting urgent clarification on the required energy performance of new buildings in Northern Ireland.

Current energy performance requirements in Northern Ireland are the least demanding across all regions of the UK and Ireland. This is locking in higher energy bills for Northern Irish households and higher levels of emissions. 

However the law in Northern Ireland states that from the start of 2021 all new buildings erected must be nearly zero-energy buildings. Despite this deadline having been in place since 2014, the Department for Finance which is responsible for local building regulations, has not yet produced a technical booklet to provide guidance on how this requirement should be met.

The 2021 nearly zero-energy building law is understood to mean that any buildings completed after 2020 should achieve the standard irrespective of when they were started. 

RSUA understands that for a typical new family house in Northern Ireland the new law could require a 75% reduction in its net energy consumption compared to the same house being designed to meet the current regulations. 

If the implementation date of the new law remains unchanged this could have serious implications for buildings starting construction now and for buildings currently being designed in line with the existing regulations and technical guidance.

Ciarán Fox, Director of RSUA, said,

“Buildings account for a high proportion of energy use and emissions in Northern Ireland. There is a pressing need for the energy performance of both new and existing buildings is be radically improved to lower fuel bills and reduce our contribution to climate change. However despite a long established and now imminent legal requirement for nearly zero-energy buildings, architects and builders have been left in the dark by the Government. In this vacuum, buildings are being designed today in line with the existing regulations and technical guidance which require a much lower energy performance.”

RSUA has asked the Minister to urgently clarify if the absence of new technical guidance means that the introduction of the nearly zero-energy buildings requirement is going to be delayed, if so, when will such a delay be announced and how will the Department use any postponement to ensure that Northern Ireland is no longer the worst performing region of Ireland and the UK in this regard.

The RSUA’s call to the Minister was announced at an oversubscribed event for architects which was addressed by Tomás O’Leary, one of the leading nearly zero-energy building experts in Ireland.

Explanatory Notes 

What is a nearly zero-energy building?

A nearly zero energy building is one which is responsible for little or zero carbon emission. This goal can be reached due to fabric improvements (insulation, airtightness, etc.) and extreme low carbon heat and power technologies (high-efficiency boilers, photovoltaic panels, solar hot water, etc). 

Nearly Zero-Energy Building Law in NI

The European Energy Performance of Buildings Directive Recast 2010 requires all new buildings to be nearly zero-energy buildings by 31st December 2020 and all buildings acquired by public bodies by 31st December 2018. 

The Irish Green Building Council states:

“This means that any buildings completed after these dates should achieve the standard irrespective of when they were started. This is quite different to the transitional arrangements for previous building regulations revisions.”

As a result of the Directive the Building (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2014 state that:

“43B. (1) Where a building is erected, it must be a nearly zero-energy building.

         (2) For the purposes of paragraph (1)

(a) in respect of new buildings occupied by public authorities, this regulation shall apply from 1st January 2019; and

(b) in respect of all new buildings, this regulation shall apply from 31st December 2020.”

The Amendments to Technical Booklets F1 and F2 to take account of the recast of the European Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (Directive 2010/31/EU) made in 2014 state:

“Regulation 43B Nearly zero ­energy requirements for new buildings will not come into operation until 2019. Changes to Technical Booklets F1 and F2 will be provided nearer to the time that this regulation comes into operation.”

Despite this commitment from 2014, to date there has been no changes made to Technical Booklets F1 and F2.

Current Standards Compared to Nearly Zero-Energy Building Standard

The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive Second Cost Optimal Assessment for the United Kingdom undertaken by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and published in 2019 states that:

“requirements in Northern Ireland are poorer than the cost optimal level”

It is the only region of the UK for which this is stated. 

The report states that for Northern Ireland the typical primary energy performance according to current regulations is:

  • Semi-detached house: 101 (kWh/m2 /yr)
  • Office with AC: 125 (kWh/m2 /yr)

The European Commission’s additional guidance on the nearly zero-energy standard for the Oceanic Zone published in 2016 proposes the following recommendation for typical net primary energy performance:

  • New single family house: 15-30 (kWh/m2/yr)

Typically, 50-65 (kWh/m2/yr) of primary energy use covered by 35 (kWh/m2/yr)of on-site renewable sources

  • Office: 40-55 (kWh/m2/yr)

Typically, 85-100 (kWh/m2/yr) of primary energy use covered by 45 (kWh/m2/yr) of on-site renewable sources