Practices

OVERVIEW | Quality and compliance issues in relation to the energy performance of buildings

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Quality and compliance issues in relation to the energy performance of buildings

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Effective implementation of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive in practice implies, among other things, high quality construction works such that a completed building’s energy performance is as planned. It also requires national frameworks which monitor and enforce compliance with energy regulations. This article provides an overview of quality and compliance issues relevant to the EPBD, as well as interesting highlights from the Member States’ experience.

 

 

1. Introduction

 

In order to achieve its objectives, the national implementation process of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) foresees a range of instruments, including the imposition of requirements in the case of new buildings and renovations, incentives, awareness raising, etc.

 

The concept of energy certificates/labelling has become very common, e.g. for household appliances. In line with the Energy Labelling Directive, all electric appliances in the EU are awarded an energy label. Most customers probably have two expectations when buying e.g. a washing machine:

  • That the energy label is reliable, i.e. a machine labelled A has a better energy performance than a machine labelled B or C.
  • That the machine is of good quality, i.e. it has good washing performance and is durable.

In practice, there probably is indeed sufficient market control in order for these energy labels to be considered reliable.

 

But what is the situation in the building market? Can one have confidence in the energy related information mentioned in an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC)?  Can one have confidence that the energy-related construction works have been well executed?

 

This article deals with two issues critical for successful market implementation of the EPBD:

  • Confidence in the information provided by the EPC, i.e. (more) attention should be given to compliance with the EPCs for new and renovated buildings.
  • Good quality of the executed works, i.e. (more) attention should be given to the building works in order to achieve in practice the desired energy performance.

 

2. Compliance

 

EPBD Article 18 “Independent control system” foresees:

  • The implementation of an independent control system for energy performance certificates and reports on the inspection of heating and air-conditioning systems in accordance with Annex II.
  • That Member States may delegate the responsibilities for implementing such independent control systems in compliance with Annex II, requiring that the relevant energy performance certificates and inspection reports be made available to the competent authorities or bodies upon request.

Article 27 “Penalties” foresees:

  • That Member States shall lay down the rules on penalties applicable to infringements of the national provisions adopted pursuant to the Directive, and
  • That Member States shall take all measures necessary to ensure that such rules are implemented. The penalties must be effective, proportionate, and dissuasive.

An overview of the relevant situation in the EU Member States can be found in the reports published by the Concerted Action EPBD and included in the BUILD UP Country Fact Sheets.

 

 

3. Quality of the works

 

Qualifying the building workforce

Increasingly, importance is being attached to upgrading the quality of  energy-related construction work. A crucial factor in achieving sufficient quality is a competent workforce. A key EU initiative is BUILD UP Skills, in which teams from 30 European countries have collaborated to identify barriers and draw up national Roadmaps to train the construction workforce. The  necessary steps to overcome these barriers have also been identified, and the number of workers that need to be trained within this context has been calculated.

 

The initiative aims to boost continuing or further education and training of craftsmen and other on-site construction workers and systems installers. Its ultimate objective is to increase the number of qualified workers across Europe that are capable of delivering high energy performance in renovations as well as new Nearly Zero Energy Buildings. The initiative addresses skills in relation to energy efficiency and integration of renewables in all types of buildings.

 

The provision of appropriate training can also be stimulated by government initiatives. One example is the requirement foreseen in the Renewable Energy Sources (RES) directive for each Member State to set up a framework for the certification of installers of renewable energy systems.

 

Stimuli for effective implementation of good workmanship

Unfavourable economic conditions can reduce the incentive to build to high quality. In such cases, boundary conditions can be put in place to increase the likelihood of good workmanship. A wide range of instruments is available, e.g. voluntary market-led initiatives, quality requirements linked to incentives, minimum quality requirements included in the legislation, etc. Some examples:

  • Voluntary market-led initiatives: several professional associations (architects, contractors, industrial sectors, etc.) have set up frameworks to recognise/certify companies and/or persons for a specific competence related to the quality of the works; an example is the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) operating a certified air tightness tester scheme. The Irish project BUILD UP Skills QualiBuild is also proposing to set up individual registration of construction workers that are qualified for high quality work.
  • Quality requirements linked to incentives: effective post insulation of existing cavity walls is subsidised in the United Kingdom and Belgium, Flanders region.
  • Quality requirements included in the legislation: an interesting example is found in France for airtightness requirements; construction companies are allowed to declare a specific airtightness level without third-party testing, provided that their work has been performed under a quality management system.

 

4. Status on the ground regarding compliance and quality of the works

 

The EU-funded project QUALICHeCK has compiled an inventory of past studies dealing with the status of EPC-related compliance on the ground, as well as quality of the works. Draft reports are available for compliance and quality of the works. Some highlights:

  • A wide scale study in France highlighted that about 44% of new multi-dwelling ventilation systems had shortcomings, as did 68% of single-dwelling systems.
  • In the UK, cavity post-insulation has already been implemented in several million existing buildings.

A number of new studies are also underway. Preliminary results are quite interesting:

  • A study in Cyprus found the declared U-values compliant only in 1 out of 15 buildings.
  • An Estonian study analysed the implementation of the thermal comfort requirement, as per the EPBD legislation, for 25 buildings. It appears that only in 8 buildings (32%) was this comfort criterion met.

It should be emphasised that in many cases the sample is too small for the results to be considered conclusive; nevertheless they indicate that further investigation would be useful.

 

Lack of awareness is often a key reason for poor outcomes. There might be also other reasons, however. The Dutch experience in this context is very interesting: in 2012, and based on the observation that about half of new ventilation systems underperformed, an action plan was agreed between stakeholders and the government in order to ensure that all systems worked correctly by 2015. In November 2014 the minister of housing declared that the action plan had failed. The main reasons were a lack of interest from clients and unfavourable economic conditions.

 

There are also worthwhile positive findings. A very interesting approach is found in Sweden where, since several decades, performance-based (but pragmatic) specifications for airtightness in air distribution systems have been used, consistently achieving good to excellent results.

 

Quality and compliance issues will be further elaborated in the 2nd QUALICHeCK Conference which will take place in Brussels on 4 September.

 

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