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Action Renewables Energy Association presents: Renewable Solutions - Residential and Commercial Construction.

- categories: events blog

Action Renewables Energy Association presents: Renewable Solutions - Residential and Commercial Construction.

The development and growth of our local communities, in relation to the construction of domestic and commercial buildings, has a large and long-lasting impact on our natural habitats. The United Nations Environment Programme recently announced that construction is responsible for almost half of all global energy use, producing 40% of greenhouse gas emissions. With the urgent need to make existing building stock energy efficient, AREA was delighted to present 'Renewable Solutions for Residential and Commercial Construction'. On June 6th at Malone House, we were joined by guest speakers, Dr Teresa McGrath, Donal McGloin, Dr Patrick Waterfield, Paul McAlister and Grant McBurney, who shared their knowledge on energy efficient materials and technologies, alongside calling for action to ensure the sustainability of all buildings, residential and commercial, in Northern Ireland. 

Energy efficiency in existing domestic buildings

Dr Teresa McGrath, from Queens University Belfast, opened the seminar by addressing the existing housing stock in Northern Ireland. Acknowledging that 25% of carbon dioxide emissions come from our domestic buildings, Dr McGrath stated that currently, housing stock in Northern Ireland is one of the oldest in Europe, and with an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of 'D', which is below 'good' in performance - overall, the NI housing stock is extremely inefficient and ineffective. Highlighting that it is now crucial that work is done to improve Northern Ireland's EPC energy levels to a 'B', in order to meet 2050 Climate Change objectives, she introduced several improvements that could be made to domestic buildings.

Discussing the importance of measuring performance, Dr McGrath emphasised the importance of introducing onsite renewables, to provide an energy alternative, and assessing and improving air tightness to reduce energy consumption. Pointing out that improving insulation in homes is key, especially as summers continue to get warmer, and winters become colder with climate change, Dr McGrath concluded that it is crucial that the state of homes in Northern Ireland are addressed, not only to improve energy efficiency levels, and future proof homes, but to ensure the health and wellbeing of the people of Northern Ireland.

Sustainable construction

Donal McGloin, Contract Manager at Tracey Brothers, introduced the construction company, acknowledging their experience of working in line with BREEAM (Building Research Establishments Environmental Assessment Method) - an efficient assessment method to assess and certify the sustainability of buildings. He discussed how Tracey Brothers is working on the construction of a new Passivhaus South West College (SWC) campus, stating that when the project is complete, it will be the first educational building worldwide to achieve the highest international standard in Environmental Construction - PassivHaus Premium and BREEAM Outstanding.

Stating that Passivhaus aims to be an advanced energy performance and thermal comfort standard for both residential and non-residential buildings, Donal acknowledged that Tracey Brothers believed training was the key in allowing them to now design and construct a building of the magnitude of Passivhaus premium standard. Discussing the difficulty in acquiring this specific type of training, Donal concluded by stating that whilst Passivhaus buildings are being constructed, if more detailed training was available, Passivhaus developments in Northern Ireland would be commonplace. 

Tackling fuel poverty with low energy housing

Joined by Paul McAlister, Architect and Chairman of the Passive House of Ireland Association, who spoke about the new innovations within ultra-low housing, aiming to tackle fuel poverty. Paul acknowledged that whilst Passive housing has been around for 20 years; Northern Ireland has only started to build Passive buildings over the last 10 years. He stated that unlike Germany and Belgium, Passive housing is still not catching-on here because of existing mindsets and lack of Government direction. Emphasising that Passive House is a standard, crucial to future proofing buildings; Paul concluded by stating that lobbying for political uptake so it can become commonplace, is an essential step to combating Northern Ireland’s issue of fuel poverty, and tackling the wider issues of quality of living and climate change.

Passive housing - keeping homes simple and efficient

Dr Patrick Waterfield discussed his two homes through a case study analysis. Having built these homes with a vision towards the future, he stated that 10 years on, whilst the homes are not ‘Passivehaus’ certified, they do meet the Nearly Zero Energy Building (NZEB) standard. Dr Waterfield summarised the features of both homes, stating he has made incredible savings - from not having to rely on oil, gas or boiler servicing, and that the homes achieve zero carbon heating. Revealing that his domestic buildings have been involved in previous NZEB Open Doors events, he emphasised how this has allowed the local public to witness the physical nature of his efficient homes, concluding that he is hopeful it will now inspire others to develop net-zero homes in the future. 

Planning law

The seminar was brought to a close by Grant McBurney, a Partner at Carson McDowell, and one of the few solicitors in Northern Ireland that specialises exclusively in areas of planning and environmental law. He highlighted several examples of case law, regarding environmental planning policies. This included an application for Judicial Review in 2018, involving the grant for planning permission of a caravan park, and an Irish High Court case concerning a wind farm development, where the proposal resulted in a direct loss for protected habitat. Grant concluded that case law in this area has led to a change in the approach to mitigation, expressing the importance of understanding the policies and regulations that surround planning. 

At the end of the seminar, attendees had the opportunity to participate in a Q&A session. 

AREA is planning to take a small break with seminars over the summer holidays, and will resume events at the beginning of September. If you would like to find out more about this event or joining Action Renewables Energy Association, you can get in touch with Ian Gordon on 028 9072 7777 or email


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