Changes to Building Regulation Part L next year will make more work for installers in the private rented sector, according to Baxi and the APHC. Jennie Ward reports.

Part L of the Building Regulations governs the Conservation of Fuel and Power in new and existing dwellings, and helps to set out the energy efficiency standards that must be adhered to in domestic buildings.

Back in 2005, changes to Part L helped the industry switch to condensing gas boiler technology by making their installation mandatory in all newbuild and most replacement situations.

Now, further amendments are poised to have far-reaching implications for landlords and those working in the private rental sector across England. From April 2018, regulations are being tightened to require landlords to improve the energy efficiency of their rental properties in order to rent them to private tenants.

Jeff House, Regulatory Marketing Manager at Baxi Heating, explained what these changes will mean for plumbing and heating engineers at a recent series of workshops, carried out with the Association of Plumbing & Heating Contractors (APHC).

“In 2011, there were 4.2 million private rented households across England & Wales, according to the English Housing Survey,” said Jeff.

“This sector is continuing to grow, and the government knows it needs to do something to improve their energy efficiency.”

These coming changes are the next step in a long-running campaign to encourage energy efficiency improvements in the UK’s rented housing stock.

Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) were first made a requirement for all new tenancies in October 2008, rating all properties on an A to G scale of energy efficiency and making recommendations on how building owners and tenants can improve that rating in a particular property.

These EPCs have shown that while most private rented properties are D-rated, 8% are F-rated and 3% are G-rated – a higher percentage of poorly-rated properties than is seen in the owner-occupier sector.

Since April 2016, tenants have been able to request that landlords carry out ‘reasonable’ efficiency improvements, but as of 1 April, 2018, all rented properties must have a minimum EPC energy efficiency rating of E in order to be rented out to new tenants, or for tenancy renewals or extensions. This will make approximately 500,000 F- and G-rated homes illegal to rent.

In 2020 the regulations will tighten further, when the minimum rating will apply to all private rental sector dwellings, including existing tenancies.

Jeff explained: “The Government has stated its goal is to ensure all fuel-poor households are EPC C-rated by 2030, and so it is likely that these regulations will continue to be tightened.”

Reasonable improvements

While landlords will have no choice but to make efficiency improvements in order to be legally allowed to rent out their properties, government has stated that funding must be made available to help cover the costs involved.

Funding can be sought from a number of sources including:

  • A new Green Deal Finance Plan

  • The Energy Company Obligation or similar future scheme

  • A grant from the Local Authority, national government or devolved administration

  • The tenant and landlord can also choose to fund the improvements themselves, if they wish.

While the exact detail of the coming regulations have not yet been made public, it is widely expected that, in order to access funding for these measures, landlords will be required to use PAS2030-accredited installers.

Many of the efficiency measures that can be installed to improve a property’s EPC rating involve work that plumbing and heating engineers can carry out.

One of the simplest and most cost-effective improvements that can bring an F- or G-rated house up to the minimum E standard is the installation of a new gas-fired condensing boiler.

Other upgrades that can be installed include better insulation, underfloor heating, modern heating controls, solar photovoltaic panels, pipe insulation and double glazing, all of which means a potential influx of work for heating engineers, as landlords commission the improvements needed to continue to rent their properties legally.

“The government needs to make these regulations simple to interpret, implement and enforce, this is absolutely key,” Jeff added.

The future of heat in buildings

Full details of the new Part L regulations are expected to be released imminently in the form of an updated Domestic Building Services Compliance Guide (DBSCG) – the publication that provides guidance on how to install building services in compliance with the Building Regulations.

The Part L guide covers four different fuels – gas, oil, electric and solid fuel – as well as the following services:

  • Space heating

  • Domestic hot water

  • Mechanical ventilation

  • Comfort cooling

  • Internal and external lighting

  • Low-carbon heat generation through the use of heat pumps, solar thermal panels and microCHP units.

A number of other regulation changes are expected to be confirmed when the new DBSCG is released, following the 2016 The Future of Heat in Domestic Buildings consultation carried out by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

The consultation asked industry for its opinion on how best to raise domestic boiler standards in the UK, as well as the potential implications of wider domestic and non-domestic central heating system performance improvements.

Since the consultation period concluded at the end of January 2017, the government has been finalising its response, and new minimum standards of efficiency for gas boilers are expected in the coming DBSCG.

The gas heating sector has inevitably been the main focus of this consultation, since 85% of the UK relies on gas as a fuel for its heating.

Jeff explained: “Gas condensing boilers came in during 2005 and we’ve seen consumption reduce by about 25% in that time as we’ve taken out a lot of older SEDBUK F and G boilers. Gas condensing boilers are now the norm, so what’s the next step? That’s what this piece of policy is all about.”

Currently, there is a minimum energy efficiency standard for space heating appliances, including boilers, of 88%. Speaking at the APHC workshop, Jeff said this is expected to be increased to 92%, in line with the minimum levels set out in the Energy Related Products Directive. This means all combi boiler replacements will have to be A-rated and at least 92% efficient in order to be sold.

Jeff said while products from most of the leading manufacturers are already at least 93%, there are still some boilers in the market that are only 91% efficient, which may well have to be dropped.

Taking control

The consultation also proposed to change the minimum standards of controls for all combi boiler replacements.

Under the current guidance time and temperature controls are recommended but are not yet mandatory, and that is expected to change. BEIS is also proposing at least one of a number of additional control options be fitted during all combi boiler replacements, to improve control standards further:

  • Weather compensation – this technology is already mandatory in Germany and some other EU countries, and features an external sensor that measures the outside temperature so that the boiler modulates to suit, helping the system to operate in condensing mode for more of the year

  • Load compensation – this reads the internal temperature and fires the boiler only as much as it needs to, to reach the desired temperature

  • Flue gas heat recovery – boosts the hot water efficiency of a combi by preheating the water using heat energy from the flue gases and feeding that back into the boiler

  • Smart controls with automated optimisation – this is the only proposed control option that isn’t already defined in SAP ratings, and so the precise wording of the new regulation amendments is still in some doubt. However, automated optimisation describes any smart control that also has learning functionality, and so can learn occupancy patterns and schedule the heating accordingly.

Jeff concluded: “The government response to that consultation and its final policy should be published imminently, and we expect it to be implemented early next year. We’re going to see more and more policy changes over the next few years, and we expect newbuild policy will be next under the microscope.

“Private rented sector standards will absolutely drive opportunities for installers. Half a million properties have to be upgraded between now and 2020.

“Baxi will be working to make it as easy as we can for installers through training and engagement, and by working with organisations such as the APHC to get the conversation going, and to issue guidance as to how these new regulations will work on a day-to-day basis.”

These latest Building Regulation changes are likely to be the first of a number of improvements designed to help upgrade our current housing stock, while also giving installers access to more potential heating refurbishment work.