The scene is set for a new building landscape

What other industry has been faced with the challenge to improve the performance of its product by 40% in just four years? We refer, of course, to the new Building Regulations that come into force on 6 April. The construction industry faces a sea change in the way it must think and operate. The pace of change is faster than it ever has been, with the transitional period for the latest regulations being slashed from three years to just one. That means the 2006 Building Regulations will start to show results at about the same time as those of 2002. With such dramatic improvements in the energy efficiency of buildings required to be coming through in so short a time, the building landscape can be expected to change dramatically. Our office, for example, has a view of a recently completed town-centre hotel with its south aspect being a flat vertical wall with windows. Also visible on the roof are large numbers of air-cooled condensing units for the air-conditioning system. That hotel is probably a pre-2002 Building Regulations project. If it were instead built to the forthcoming regulations, it would surely look very different — with, at least, solar shading to reduce solar gain. The abrupt change in standards reflects, of course, the Government’s commitment to action in the face of climate change. The whole-building approach to improving the energy efficiency of buildings is a necessary step change in approach compared to the previous elemental approach that specified the performance of each and every component. The application of the forthcoming regulations to major refurbishment work will also boost their effect. While Building Regulations can control what is built, they can have less effect on how buildings are run. We are all well aware that the way a car is driven affects its fuel consumption. The same applies to buildings. However, on-one leaves a car engine running overnight when the car is not in use, but they can, and do, leave lights blazing and heating and air-conditioning systems running. In contrast, those services that ought to be left running overnight, such as ventilation to provide overnight cooling in summer, are probably not. Both CIBSE (the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers) and ASHRAE (the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating & Air Conditioning Engineers) show awareness of this concern in a joint statement on climate change. The statement highlights, for example, the need for co-ordinated approaches to environmental issues at all stages of building and component life cycles from conception, design, construction, and through operation, maintenance and refurbishment, It also emphasises that the two bodies will promote practices that encourage energy efficiency by building users. There is little point having energy-efficient buildings unless they are operated to exploit that capability. Is this the next stage of legislation to address climate change?

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