A renewed focus on energy efficient buildings

Featured Article
06 Feb 2019

As Featured in GGP Magazine - 08/18

Phil Brown, European regulatory marketing manager at Pilkington United Kingdom Limited, part of the NSG Group, explains why energy-efficiency initiatives are set to return to the property sector and what this means for the growth of the glass and glazing market.

Energy efficiency policy in the UK property sector is quite confused. On the one hand, the UK is committed to meeting binding carbon-reduction targets. On the other, government initiatives to improve the performance of buildings have come and gone again in spates over the past decade.

Of course, there have been some constants – the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard (MEES), for example, which prohibits landlords from granting a tenancy to new or existing tenants if the property has an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating below band E. But the end of the original Green Deal, renewable subsidies and the cancellation of the Government's zero-carbon homes policy have reduced industry incentives for best-in-class energy efficiency.  We also wait to see what impact Each Home Counts will have on our industry.

Before the parliamentary recess over the summer, more than 100 MPs signed a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May requesting a net-zero emissions target for 2050. Clearly the need for a more focussed effort to address global warming has been noted. 

A net-zero emissions target would be a major step towards a greener UK and should precipitate a renewed focus on the energy performance of property.

Buildings are responsible for around 40 per cent of the UK’s energy consumption and 36 per cent of the country’s annual CO2 emissions. Gains here could have a huge impact on meeting a net-zero emissions target. 

Yet the task of upgrading the built environment should not be underestimated. In fact, it is probably larger than previously thought since it is now clear that established performance standards like MEES may not be as widely adopted in the UK as once assumed. 

Thousands of landlords could be exempt from MEES. Those that can prove that special funding from Green Deal loans or Energy Company Obligation (ECO) schemes, for example, is not available in their area don’t always have to improve their properties to the required standard.

A research project funded by energy supplier Ebico’s registered charity, Ebico Trust, also found that local authorities may not be using their powers to implement minimum EPC ratings in the private-rented sector. It found the largest proportion of buildings rated F and G are private rentals. With nearly half (45.7 per cent) of the families living in these homes in fuel poverty, this stock is in urgent need of improvement.  

More ambitious targets are an absolute must. But can the property sector cope with an ambitious upgrade of this level? I’d argue yes – and glass can play a key role.

Firstly, glass as a material has a range of energy-saving properties. Low emissivity (low-e) energy-efficient windows can help to reduce heating bills by up to 20 per cent by improving a building’s thermal efficiency. Meanwhile, particularly for extensively-glazed buildings, solar control glass can reduce the transmission of solar heat without dramatically reducing the natural light entering through the window. As a result, it’s recommended for use in large façades, walkways, atria and conservatories. The two combined can reduce heating bills and the cost of cooling through air conditioning units.  Conveniently, glass manufacturers offer products that include low-e and solar control in one coating. 

Secondly, it can be included in the build without significant up-front investment. Development finance is perhaps not as readily available as it once was. So, making improvements to energy performance through building products – adopting a 'fabric first' approach - can be a lot more achievable than installing on-site generation systems, as they don’t come with a large additional outlay and require little maintenance. 

And thirdly, architects and developers can create attractive buildings for commercial occupiers and homeowners by using glass. When specified correctly it can create an impressive façade that provides unobstructed views, boosting aesthetic appeal.

The glass and glazing industry body Glass for Europe is working hard to push the market forward at a European level. It supports targets to decarbonise the entire EU building stock by 2050 and for all new buildings to be net-zero energy by 2020. 

Glass as a building material is already one of the first choices for many architects and developers. If the predicted focus on improving energy efficiency happens at a policy level, we’ll likely see a significant increase in its use.