Building owners have a lot of legislative shocks in store and the hot water industry will have to play its part in softening the blows, says Nigel Stanford*

The role of the European Union in all of our lives is a political ‘hot potato’, but many of the high powered business leaders who argue with the UK government over the issue are blissfully unaware of the impact its laws are about to have on their own buildings.

Perhaps they don’t see it as a high priority. However, the results of a recent survey, which revealed that 67 per cent of firms were unaware of the EU’s Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), should be of concern to everyone.

The same survey, commissioned by insurance company Royal & Sun Alliance, showed that 90 per cent of commercial building occupants had little or no clue that the Directive’s requirements could hit them very hard – including £5,000 fines for non-compliance – and only one in ten knew when it came into effect.

As of 6 April this year, thanks to the EPBD, Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) are required for all homes when they are first built and for commercial buildings with a floor area over 10,000 m2 when they are built, sold or rented out.

By October 1, EPCs will be required on the sale or rent of all remaining domestic and commercial buildings with Display Energy Certificates (DECs) required for all public buildings over 1,000m2.

By January 2009 the first mandatory inspections of air conditioning systems over 250kW should have taken place. This will be followed two years later by inspections of all air conditioning systems over 12kW. These inspections will have to be repeated every five years. Commercial landlords too seem unaware of the looming threat, according to law firm Mace & Jones, which pointed out that the value of property investments would fall if they fail to take measures to improve the sustainability of their properties.

The energy performance certificate will grade a building between A and G according to factors such as the age of the building, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, roof insulation, double glazing, lighting, and use of water as well as CO2 emissions per square metre of floor space.

“We have discovered that many commercial property owners and occupiers think that these certificates apply only to domestic home owners putting together their Home Information Packs,” said Mace & Jones property specialist Amanda Hurst. “But the government’s aim is to make all property owners aware of their responsibility to the environment”.

“Energy performance certificates will be a legal requirement for business property owners and those who flout the law could face severe penalties”. “These certificates will radically change the market place as buyers and tenants will be able to weigh up the cost of maintenance – as well as the cost to the environment – when deciding where to buy or rent,” she added. So this is important and the first step for any property owner/occupier looking to improve their rating is to tackle demand. Improved insulation levels are a ‘no brainer’ and most new buildings boast greater airtightness and double glazing to reduce heat losses, but the big gains are to be had by raising standards in existing buildings.

Around 80 per cent of the structures we will still be occupying in 2050 – the date by which our government has pledged to cut carbon emissions by 60 per cent – have already been built. Building Regulations cannot target these buildings unless the owner opts to have some work carried out, hence the importance of retrospective measures like EPCs. Recommissioning existing services is an ideal second step, which should be accompanied by detailed measuring and monitoring of energy consumption so that you do, at least, know what you are dealing with. If you don’t measure it, how can you save it? From a heating perspective, all of these measures lead to far lower demands on space heating, but little change in the requirements for water heating. So there is a gradual change in emphasis with water becoming a proportionately higher burden.

Initially, the prospects for electric water heating products looked pretty gloomy when all this legislation came around, but in fact the opposite has proved to be true. Its carbon performance has surprised many.

Electric water heating works very well in tandem with renewables, so there is a real benefit for those end users who opt to improve their ratings by adding solar thermal collectors, which can provide up to 50 per cent of a building’s annual hot water requirements if designed and commissioned correctly. Electric water storage is also an ideal partner for heat pumps.

At Redring we are also experiencing increased demand for our ranges of water heating products that speed up delivery and reduce standing losses including vented and unvented storage. If you reduce your fabric losses and ensure your water heating only heats what is required, you are well on the way to a high energy performance rating. Electric water heating products also enjoy considerable ease of installation and flexibility of siting advantages over gas and oil-fired systems. There are few restrictions on where the electricity supply can enter the building and there are none of the additional problems, such as flueing and condensate drainage issues, associated with gas condensing appliances. By providing hot water close to the point of use, instantaneous water heaters can also offer specifiers another option for reducing energy waste.

In the longer term, the carbon content of electricity will fall as more of it is generated from renewable or nuclear sources. Future building energy rating systems will be adjusted to reflect this and, combined with improved insulation and better commissioning practices; it will strengthen the case for electric water heating even further. *Nigel Stanford is Sales & Marketing Director of Applied Energy Products Ltd.

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