NEW HOMES could be built with almost no insulation under new rules proposed by the Department of the Environment - because British builders lack the skills to install it properly.
Under draft building regulations, the energy efficiency of components such as boilers and double glazing can be 'traded off' against the basic structure. The Royal Institute of British Architects says that some buildings could be put up with no insulation at all. Almost a third of Britain's total energy consumption is used in homes, mostly for heating, at an annual cost of pounds 12bn.
The rules would also make it harder to meet the Government's promise to cut carbon-based emissions, which contribute to global warming, by 500 million tons by the year 2000.
The new rules have been the subject of a row within the Department of the Environment, and the RIBA has sent a fiercely critical response to the department. Big building firms are lobbying to have the regulations scrapped completely. Professor Peter Smith of the RIBA's environment and energy committee called the new rules a regression to the standards of the Seventies.
But the department's ability to set tough standards has been hit by a shortage of skilled labour. The recession has forced many skilled carpenters and bricklayers out of the industry.
A spokesman for the department admitted that the rules had to be cost effective for builders and should not increase the risks that come with badly installed insulation: for instance, bodged cavity wall insulation can lead to rain penetrating inner walls.
Andy Taylor, a project manager in Brighton with builders Llewellyn, said that a new breed of construction managers, trained in college rather than by apprenticeship, were more easily manipulated by unskilled contractors.