The Irish Times view on green housing

Tens of thousands of houses need to be built over the coming years. Doing so in an environmentally-friendly way is important

A boast of every television home show is, increasingly, not only the spectacular architectural designs pursued by the self-build maverick, but the impressive building energy rating (BER) achieved. Packed as they are with the best of insulation, heat pumps and solar panels, it is rare that these houses don’t meet top BER standards.

However, these are not the most sustainable houses. In fact, as new homes go, they may be among the least carbon efficient and could be a factor in preventing the State from meeting its Climate Action Plan decarbonisation goals, according to the Irish Green Building Council.

While new detached housing may achieve high operational efficiencies, the “whole life carbon” ratings of such buildings are poor because they score badly when the emissions associated with production – material extraction, manufacturing, and distribution and transport of materials – are taken into consideration.

Many of these houses do not meet with current density rules, but are being built under rolled over or extended planning permissions, the council said. While newer homes are becoming more energy efficient per square metre, their increased average size is often offsetting these improvements. With significant building needed to meet housing goals, how can this be married with climate imperatives?

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Apartments score the highest when it comes to the energy used to run the home, but it has never been easy to persuade Irish people of the merits of apartment living, at least not as a long-term home. Interestingly, when it comes to whole life carbon, the terraced house holds its own against apartments because of the lower carbon emissions used in its production, with no lifts and other elements of the multi-storey building.

While not the solution for every site, the terrace could play an important role in meeting climate and housing goals. As this would represent a major change in living patterns, significant efforts are needed to develop such “denser” living environments in a way which buyers find attractive.