Azara Blog: EU says governments are failing on energy efficiency of housing

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Date published: 2008/01/28

The BBC says:

European governments and the European Commission are being urged to hasten the development of housing that produces no greenhouse gases.

The European Energy Network (ENR), which includes energy advisory bodies across the EU, says better enforcement of green building codes is also needed.

Less than a quarter of EU states have introduced certification schemes for houses, as required under EU law.
"One implication of our findings is that the European Commission needs to take some leadership and set a timetable for all new buildings around Europe to be zero-carbon," said Philip Sellwood, chief executive of Britain's Energy Saving Trust (EST), an ENR member.
Britain has introduced energy performance certificates and set a target of building only zero-carbon homes from 2016.

Even so, Mr Sellwood says the government has not set up the support mechanisms needed to encourage householders to invest in energy saving measures.

"In the UK, the average home has the potential to save £300 per year by just installing the most effective measures such as loft insulation and modern heating controls," said Mr Sellwood.

"Energy supply companies are under an obligation to help their customers become more energy efficient; but lots of householders don't trust their energy companies.

The article conflates two issues. The first is the idea that new houses should be "zero carbon". The second is the question of how to improve the energy efficiency of the existing housing stock.

Of course a "zero carbon" house is not zero carbon. A lot of carbon is emitted in the construction of the house. Hopefully only a small amount extra compared to a conventional house so that the long run savings more than makes up for the additional up-front cost. And "zero carbon" must be mainly about space heating (and even here it relies on people behaving the way the house designers think they should behave, e.g. with the level of the thermostat). People have an ever increasing number of electronic gadgets in the house, and this could easily swamp any savings made from heating.

Although "zero carbon" houses could be considered a great idea, they will make very little difference in the next 50 or 100 years, because of the huge amount of existing houses. To make existing houses significantly more energy efficient is not only more of a challenge, it is much more relevant in the medium term. And Sellwood is correct, "lots of householders don't trust their energy companies". But even more importantly, lots of householders don't trust builders. How many builders will try to sell unnecessary "improvements" to people in order to make a quick buck? Indeed, how many builders are so incompetent or crooked that the "improvements" will actually make the situation worse? Unless governments can somehow sort out this issue, householders will understandably be very reluctant to do anything substantive.

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