Changes to improve energy efficiency

Changes to improve efficiency

Complying with the Building Regulations

The Building Regulations set the requirements (in the form of Approved Documents) that allow for buildings to achieve a minimum level of acceptable performance. They typically cover health, safety, energy performance and accessibility. 

The Building Regulations only apply to current building work and there is no general requirement to upgrade all existing buildings to meet these standards.Most of the energy efficiency requirements of the Building Regulations are in Part L The Conservation of Fuel and Power (2006)

Exemptions from part L of the Building Regulations

Listed buildings

Building Regulation 9(5)(a)(i) states that listed buildings are exempt from the energy efficiency requirements of the Building Regulations where compliance with the energy efficiency requirements would unacceptably alter their character or appearance’.The intention of this part of the regulations is to exempt works to improve energy efficiency that would not receive listed building consent.

If the terms of the listed building consent rule out standard methods of complying with the energy efficiency requirements, building control bodies may be able to suggest alternative ways of improving energy efficiency that would not alter the building’s character or appearance. Building control bodies may thus want to talk to the building owner and the local planning authority’s conservation specialists about such alternative measures. They may also want to stress that appropriate works to improve the energy efficiency of a listed building can actually assist with its long term conservation. However, the final decision on whether the works are acceptable will rest with the local planning authority.

Buildings in conservation areas

Building Regulation 9(5)(a)(ii) states that all buildings in conservation areas are exempt from the energy efficiency requirements of the Building Regulations where compliance with the energy efficiency requirements would unacceptably alter [the] character or appearance’ of the building in the conservation area, whether or not it is itself listed. This is different from the requirements of planning law regarding conservation areas, which requires consideration only of the impact of proposed development on the character and appearance of the area.

Much external work to buildings in conservation areas will require planning permission, and as part of deciding about that permission local planning authorities will consider the impact of the proposal on the character and appearance of the area. If local planning authorities impose conditions that limit works to improve energy efficiency, building control bodies cannot insist upon such works. For example, if planning permission for an extension in a conservation area is granted on the condition that all its windows exactly match the single-glazed windows in the host building, the new windows are exempt from the energy efficiency requirements of the Building Regulations. In other situations the building control body will have to determine whether or not the work is exempt from the energy efficiency requirements.

Some work  to improve the energy efficiency of non-listed buildings in conservation areas will not require planning permission, especially if it is confined to interiors. However, if such work would have a negative impact on the character or appearance of the buildings it is exempt from Part L.

Other works that require planning permission may be approved because the works will not affect the character and appearance of the area, although they would certainly affect the character and appearance of the building itself (e.g. adding cladding to a rear elevation). Such works are exempt from Part L even though they have received planning permission.

In such situations the building control body is required to apply the criteria set out in Planning Policy Guidance 15 (PPG 15) for judging  listed building applications . Annex C to PPG15, gives guidance on alterations to listed buildings. Other information sheets in this series provide more detailed guidance.

Building control bodies could also turn to conservation specialists working within or for local planning authorities for advice on whether particular proposed works to comply with Part L would unacceptably alter the character or appearance of such buildings.

Scheduled monuments

Until the 2006 revisions, scheduled monuments were completely exempt from the Building Regulations. The revised Building Regulation 9 now states that they are subject to the energy efficiency requirements of the Building Regulations unless compliance would unacceptably alter their character or appearance (see regulation 9(5)(a)(iii)). Consent from the Secretary of State, on the advice of English Heritage is required for most works that involve alterations or additions to scheduled monuments, including those designed to improve their energy efficiency. In practice the vast majority of scheduled monuments do not have complete walls and roofs and do not use energy for heating and cooling. However, many of them are lit at night, and therefore present opportunities to reduce energy consumption through the use of more efficient lighting systems.

Buildings afforded special consideration

The Approved Documents L1B (existing dwellings) and L2B (existing non-dwellings) contain identical sections on historic buildings (paragraphs 8-10). These paragraphs describe the special consideration that can be given to historic buildings.

The Approved Documents state that special consideration should be afforded to ‘buildings with special historic or architectural value’. This is exactly the same description used in the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 to describe listed buildings. However, listed buildings are already exempt from the energy efficiency requirements.

The meaning of ‘buildings with special historic or architectural value’ is not currently defined in Part L of the Building Regulations but is defined in other parts of the Building Regulations to be:

  • Listed buildings
  • Buildings situated in a conservation area
  • Buildings which are of architectural and historical interest and which are referred to as a material consideration in a local authority’s development plan
  • Buildings of architectural and historical interest within national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty, and world heritage sites.

Works not required

The regulations state that ‘when undertaking work on or in connection with buildings with special historic or architectural value, the aim should be to improve energy efficiency where and to the extent that it is practically possible’.

This important statement acknowledges that the standards sought in the Approved Documents may not be appropriate to historic buildings. Instead a more pragmatic approach is required with each case being determined on its own merits.

Work should also not prejudice the character of the host building’. Works that harm the appearance of the building, result in the loss of historic fabric, make irreversible changes or in other ways impact upon its significance should be interpreted as prejudicing the character of the building.

Work should not increase the risk of long term deterioration to the building fabric or fittings’. This recognises that certain works (e.g. to reduce ventilation) may not have immediate negative consequences, but that interference with the traditional performance of the building could have harmful long -term effects.

Works specifically allowed

The Approved Documents also mention certain categories of work to historic buildings that might actually worsen energy efficiency but should nevertheless be acceptable under the Building Regulations. These are:

  • restoring the historic character of a building that has been subject to previous inappropriate alteration, e.g. replacement windows, doors and rooflights
  • rebuilding a former building (e.g. following a fire or filling in a gap site on a terrace)
  • making provisions enabling the fabric of historic buildings to ‘breathe’ to control moisture and thereby avoid long-term decay problems

Obtaining other consents

If you are intending to carry out works to improve energy efficiency to a listed building or a building in a conservation area first check with the local planning authority  whether any consent may be required. Alterations that affect the external or internal appearance (in the case of listed buildings) and character including any materials, details and finishes may well require consent.

Local planning authority conservation officers can also advise on the balance between historic building conservation and energy efficiency in historic buildings. Building control bodies should ask local planning authorities to explain the historical significance of a building or feature to help them decide whether works to improve energy efficiency would prejudice its character or appearance. Building control bodies should also ask for advice about how the proposed measures are likely to affect the performance of the fabric of a traditional building.

Large numbers of traditional buildings are not listed or situated in any designated areas. Many of these will nevertheless have features of some historic interest. This means that any adaptations made to improve energy efficiency need to take account of the traditional performance of the building fabric and its compatibility with the new materials that are being proposed. 

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