By Marianna Papaglastra (Sympraxis Team) and François Rémi Carrie (ICEE)
Insufficient compliance in the issuing of Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) and poor quality building works erode trust in the EPC and jeopardise the achievement of energy efficiency targets. These were among the findings of the QUALICHeCK project, funded under the Intelligent Energy Europe (IEE) programme.
The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) contains requirements for EU Member States to drastically reduce the energy use in buildings and to pave the way towards Nearly-Zero Energy Buildings (NZEBs). These requirements are also present in the proposal for a revised EPBD, published by the European Commission in late 2016 as part of the "Clean Energy for All Europeans" legislative package. Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) are expected to provide information for owners, tenants and the market alike, to highlight the potential for energy savings and to encourage investments in energy efficiency. However, insufficient quality assurance measures that result in inaccurate EPC ratings (deviations between actual versus claimed or expected EPC ratings) can undermine these efforts.
According to Articles 18 and 27 of the EPBD, Member States should establish independent control systems and implement penalties in case of infringements of the national provisions. Nevertheless, the 2016 report on the outcomes of the Concerted Action EPBD on implementing the Directive shows that 38% of Member States have not yet implemented effective measures to secure the compliance of EPCs. Poor quality or non-compliant building works compound the problem. Upgraded skills and increased attention to detail in design, specification, execution and hand-over of built works are all crucial to achieving Nearly Zero Energy Building (NZEB) levels of performance.
Although experience has shown that NZEB performance is achievable in individual cases, including when renovating existing buildings, the challenges associated with driving the whole market in this direction are considerable. Ensuring that construction works comply with NZEB requirements in both regulations and specifications remains a particular difficulty. Another challenge lies in upgrading the quality of the works to meet NZEB standards at commissioning but also in the longer term.
The IEE QUALICHeCK project's goal was to raise awareness and trigger initiatives to improve the compliance of EPCs and the quality of built works in order to decrease the actual energy use of buildings. In other words, QUALICHeCK urged building professionals to "do what they declare". This entailed the following three specific objectives:
1. Showcase the extent of non-compliance of EPC input data and poor quality of building works.
A structured understanding of the status on the ground was provided through a literature review and the performance of new field studies. The literature review examined 31 existing studies dealing with measured performance, reliability of input data, quality of the works and compliance frameworks, and showed in many of the above areas problematic situations. In the report Overview of EPC compliance, and quality issues on the ground, QUALICHeCK also provided an overview of the building energy performance-related quality and compliance situation in Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, France, Greece, Romania, Spain and Sweden, based on 10 field studies conducted by the project, each on samples of 25+ buildings. Some interesting results from these studies include:
- In Austria, 20% of the EPC input data had not been updated between design and completion, resulting in errors in space heating demand assessments in the range of 5-28%.
- In Estonia, 68% of the buildings investigated did not comply with the regulatory summer comfort requirement.
- In Greece, the percentages of non-compliance based on building design documentation for the U-values of external insulation and solar collectors are 56% and 73% respectively.
- In Romania, recalculation of the EPCs led to a change in energy class in almost 40% of the sample for the total energy use.
- In Sweden, the non-compliance rate based on the availability of the EPC alone was found to be 56% on a sample of 100 new houses.
Other key findings of this analysis include:
- Modifications between design and execution are frequent, leading to significant discrepancies in EPC ratings if there is no explicit requirement that the EPC should be consistent with as-built characteristics (Austria);
- Non-compliant product selection or implementation compared to building work specifications are frequent, and are caused by a variety of factors including a lack of competence, critical economic conditions, or insufficient control. Several studies show that these problems, together with unclear specifications, are detrimental to the quality of the works;
- Several studies (Cyprus, Estonia, Greece 1 and Greece 2) show that significant deviations exist between claimed and actual EPC ratings, EPC input data, and performance criteria assessments or requirements. This suggests that applicable compliance frameworks as implemented today are not dissuasive.
Generally, the data confirms and quantifies the fact that problems exist with the quality of EPC input data and the quality of building works, as well as with compliance frameworks.
2. Highlight the challenges and benefits of existing approaches.
Despite finding issues with non-compliance, QUALICHeCK also reveals positive ongoing developments. Ambitious and sophisticated systems are in place in certain Member States, and although they involve longer learning curves and are more difficult to implement in practice, they seem to lead to substantial performance improvements. These existing approaches, which are either proved to be effective or appear capable of overcoming non-compliance issues, are discussed in the following QUALICHeCK Reports:
- Towards improved quality of the works | Documented examples of existing situations and
- Compliant and Easily Accessible EPC Input Data | Overview of some existing approaches
They comprise an analysis of over 30 existing voluntary and regulatory practices developed in European countries as well as critical situations which hinder the achievement of good quality of works and compliance of EPC input data.
Solutions proposed by the QUALICHeCK project include:
- Setting explicit requirement for consistency between as-built characteristics and values reported (QUALICHeCK Fact Sheet #12);
- Creating databases, catalogues of pre-calculated values, and harmonised information formats to facilitate access to product characteristics, similar to those available in Austria, Belgium and France. European product databases are also useful, for example the European solar-shading database;
- Using templates to document or control input data in order to ease compliance checks, similar to those used in France and Sweden;
- Making use of tools and guidelines to help designers and installers better specify and install their products (e.g., QUALICHeCK Fact Sheets #29, #51, #52);
- Implementing training programmes for construction workers and building professionals (such as those developed under the BUILD UP Skills initiative);
- Implementing qualification and certification schemes, for example to secure the compliance of on-site testing or building works specifications, including reporting and use in energy performance assessments (e.g. QUALICHeCK Fact Sheets #21, #45, #56);
- Drafting and enforcing contractual obligations with explicit controllable requirements (QUALICHeCK Fact Sheet #09).
The “baubook” product database in Austria
The “EPB product database” in Belgium
3. Provide guidance on setting up effective compliance frameworks.
QUALICHeCK published two sourcebooks, one on Guidelines for better enforcement of quality of the works and one for Improved compliance of Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) of buildings. Both of these provide a step by step summary of key issues that should be addressed when setting up the foundations of a sound compliance framework.
According to QUALICHeCK, the development of effective compliance frameworks should be based on 6 key steps as in the scheme below.
Nevertheless, stakeholders' support is of pivotal importance to the success of approaches aiming to improve compliance in the field of energy performance of buildings. This is the reason why QUALICHeCK sought to raise engagement and awareness through an intense programme of physical and virtual events.
A series of national engagement activities including Roadshow events were initiated in the 9 focus countries and physical conferences and workshops were organised in key European locations. Web seminars dealt with specific topics of interest and can be watched live on the QUALICHeCK website.
Feedback gathered through a questionnaire answered by 143 participants who had attended events organised by QUALICHeCK show a consensus on QUALICHeCK’s definitions of compliance related aspects as well as of the major barriers to improved compliance of EPCs and quality of building works. In addition, 64% of the respondents considered that their knowledge on compliant EPCs had either extremely or moderately increased thanks to QUALICHeCK events, and 59% felt the same regarding compliant building works. Nearly half of the respondents thought that awareness of the issues surrounding EPC compliance and quality of building works has extremely or moderately increased in the past 3 years in their country thanks to QUALICHeCK results and consultation. Overall, these analyses confirm the success of the project in terms of awareness raising, and the need for further work in this area.
These efforts are continuing with the QUALICHeCK Platform inaugurated in 2015 to support the emergence of compliance-related initiatives regarding EPCs and the quality of building works during and beyond the QUALICHeCK project duration.
QUALICHeCK has undoubtedly had a direct influence on the development of national approaches in several countries, and it has also contributed to discussions in these areas. QUALICHeCK outcomes have also inspired the development of national and international initiatives.
A more detailed summary of the impact of QUALICHeCK is available in the final publishable report QUALICHeCK Booklet #2 | Compliance and quality of works for improved energy performance of buildings.
All QUALICHeCK outcomes are available at qualicheck-platform.eu