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The State agency in charge of enabling this plan is unsure of the impact that it could have on BERs. Alamy Stock Photo

New EU energy efficiency law could see government incentivise thousands more homes to renovate

Changes to BER assessments could see some ratings drop over the next number of years.

THE GOVERNMENT WILL be under renewed pressure to get homeowners to renovate their houses to boost energy efficiency under new EU legislation.

Member states today gave their final approval to a deal struck between them and the European Parliament in December.

The planned changes to how the energy efficiency of homes is measured could broaden the scope of the challenge ahead for the State – and could affect some older homes’ building energy ratings (BERs). 

These new measures will not be mandated – meaning property owners will have no legal obligation to retrofit. Therefore, it will be in the interest of the state to extend grant schemes to help homeowners cover the costs of renovating.

But, it is understood that the state authority in charge of enabling this plan is still unsure how the changes to energy performance certificates will impact existing BERs.

Therefore, the government may be required to incentivise potentially thousands more homeowners than expected.

The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) promotes renovation of public and residential buildings and sets minimum energy standards through changing how energy performance certificates are assessed.

The plan to improve public buildings could cost the state over €1 trillion in total. The hefty price tag was defended in October by lead-negotiator of the plan and Green Party MEP Ciarán Cuffe, who said it would benefit the climate and create a boom in the construction industry.

BERs are scaled assessments which determine how efficiently homes and other buildings use energy. The ratings from A to G can affect property prices.

It is understood that the majority of the changes to the BER model in Ireland will be made to the highest ratings, to include a grade which indicates that the buildings is completely renewable and emits zero-emissions.

It is still not yet clear how exactly the new amendments will impact the BER process for the entire housing stock in Ireland, but a number of assessors familiar with the practice told The Journal that ratings could drop after the changes are made.

Meeting targets could impact property owners

The updated measures direct member states to increase the energy performance rating of the worst-rated, non-residential, public buildings to a BER grade of E by 2027 and a D rating by 2030, at a minimum.

The State is also directed to increase the average energy performance rating for a fifth of the worst-rated properties in the residential sector by 2035. The Government has previously aimed to improve ratings for all homes to a B2 rating.

But plans to redefine these ratings and create a standard scale among EU member states, which will later be used to determine which buildings are ranked as the worst-rated, include a higher-standard of criteria than what is currently in Ireland’s BER model.

This could lead to buildings, that are rated just within the cusp of a D, see their ratings decreased – leaving Government having to incentivise property owners to retrofit the once-appropriate structures, to reach the rating the owner thought they already achieved. 

One BER assessor, familiar with the practice, told The Journal that previous changes to EU hot water regulations saw the ratings of some homes fluctuate between grades over time.

It is understood that the new policies that could change BER ratings will largely be aimed at introducing a higher grade to correctly assess zero-emissions buildings, meaning the majority of homeowners at the top of the scale will be slightly impacted.

But it is also understood that the SEAI has accepted the possibility that BER ratings of properties could drop once the new certificate assessments have been developed.

renovating-an-old-home One BER assessor said previous changes to hot water regulations saw the ratings of some homes fluctuate between grades over time. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

There are no plans to mandate these targets either, a representative for the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), the State agency in charge of enabling this plan, told The Journal.

As a result, there will be no legal necessity for homeowners to renovate their private properties at some point within the next 11 years. But, if the State fails to reach the targets, it could open the Government up to fines and judicial action from the EU.

Therefore, it will be required that the State extend or provide additional grant schemes and other effective incentives in order to convince homeowners to pay the high costs associated with retrofitting and renovating a property.

Fine Gael MEP Seán Kelly, who is a member of the European Parliament committee which worked on the proposal, said: “If you retrofit your house, your energy bills come down, your house is healthier, it’s more comfortable and some people have actually got their money back within six to seven years.”

“That point is completely missed. It’s not precise enough and it has to be. I think once people are aware of it and say that [retrofitting your home] actually makes economic sense and then if the loans and the grants are there, I think a lot more people will do it.”

Many BER assessors voiced criticism over the current grants model proposed by the parliament, as it could lead to some homeowners having to get the whole house renovated at one time.

Kelly acknowledged this point and hoped that the grants can be introduced and extended to meet a phased model. It is understood there currently are no definitive plans to extend these schemes to a greater number of people.

Figures from the European Data Warehouse does show that energy performance ratings buildings in Ireland are spread evenly, but very few are have been given a F or G rating.

SEAI in the dark over how these changes will impact ratings

The latest amendments include recommendations to Member States to move towards introducing a “common scale of energy performance classes” to create a uniform rating and assessment process across the bloc.

According to the directive, a common template “should ensure sufficient comparability between energy performance certificates across the union” and says newer certificates should include recommendations to property owners for the improvement of the rating.

It is understood that the SEAI are still in the dark over how exactly the new adaptation will impact BER ratings.

builders-installing-high-performance-kingspan-and-celotex-thermal-insulation-boards-to-the-walls-and-ceiling-of-an-older-home Builders installing thermal insulation boards during a renovation and retrofit. Alamy Alamy

Marion Jammet, head of policy and advocacy at the Irish Green Building Council, which has welcomed the directive, said all of that is required from the State is to transpose the directive into law, using the agreed upon targets.

The Green Building Council is planning to address the EPBD topic at their annual conference in May.

The new amendments will be written into the European Journal – which acts as a de-facto ‘to-do list’ for member states – on 23 April. European governments will then have two years to transpose these directives into legislation and different schemes.

This work is co-funded by Journal Media and a grant programme from the European Parliament. Any opinions or conclusions expressed in this work are the author’s own. The European Parliament has no involvement in nor responsibility for the editorial content published by the project. For more information, see here

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