The Green House

Don't pity the British construction industry - it's not being pushed far enough yet
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The Independent Online

If any of your chums are property developers, cheer them up with a bunch of flowers on 6 April as this is when new building regulations become law, forcing them to spend more cash on boring stuff such as insulation. The changes, which cap the carbon emissions of new homes, will increase building costs but decrease running costs, so they are good for the consumer as well as the environment.

Part L of the Building Regulations, the bit that concerns the conservation of energy, is ratcheted up every few years. Whenever this happens, the building industry grumbles about the impact on its business while environmentalists scoff that the new standards are only what country X (usually somewhere in Scandinavia) achieved decades ago. Which raises the question: why don't we just adopt the building methods of countries where high standards of energy efficiency are long established?

The simple answer is that the British construction industry knows what it likes and likes what it knows. Hopefully, the new regulations will encourage a more thoughtful consideration of environmental design, which may in turn raise some horizons. Furthermore, the foreigners are coming.

Decades ago, the Canadians decided their housing was way too draughty and cold and set about defining a radical new building standard - R-2000 - that included high levels of insulation, an airtight building envelope and carefully controlled ventilation. A national training programme turned the building industry around, with the result that Canadians now enjoy some of the most comfortable and energy-efficient housing in the world.

Having honed their methods to a precise art, the Canadians realised they had an excellent product to export. Super-E ® housing, the British version of the Canadian standard, has well and truly arrived ( www.super-e.com). The Canadians' approach is to partner their own housebuilders with British companies, backed up by a training programme. BSW Alouette is one such partnership, currently completing a development for Berkeley Homes in Holborough, Kent ( www.berkeleyhomes.co.uk). The style may be New England but construction is very much new Canadian, with an energy and environmental specification to match.

Super-E's emphasis on airtightness and controlled ventilation is particularly important as British builders, who have ignored this issue for years, are under pressure from the new regulations to cut out the draughts. Although the new targets are rather feeble, this is likely to be where the ratchet is felt in years to come.

As Easter is approaching, I suggest you choose lilies for that bunch of flowers - a symbol of hope and new life beyond immediate tribulation. Rather than seeing this change as a burden, I hope developers will begin to take seriously the claims of Super-E and others that well-designed houses with very high environmental credentials are also very comfortable and healthy - and therefore very desirable.

The building regulations remain an unsustainable minimum standard. For a home-grown vision that goes well beyond them, check out the recommendations of the Association for Environment Conscious Building ( www.aecb.net). For inter-continental inspiration, register for the International Solar Cities Congress, held in Oxford from 3 to 6 April ( www.solarcities.org.uk). Low-carbon experts will be attending from around the globe, including, of course, delegates from the enviable country X.

GREAT BUY

Rolls of self-adhesive draught-stripping cost pennies but will save you pounds. Don't rest until every draught is plugged. Available from your local DIY shed.

GREAT WEBSITES

www.passivehouse.com. The Passive House Institute in Germany has established a building standard that is truly radical - and increasingly popular on the Continent. How does your home fare on its checklist?

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