31 May 2017
A-rated: 7 ways your self build can ace its BER exam
Eco-friendly self builds were once something you’d only see on Grand Designs, as someone exhausted their life savings on building materials that you’d never heard of. Nowadays, the idea of making your self-build as eco-friendly as possible is not just accepted. It’s almost expected!
That doesn’t mean that you have to start collecting tyres to build your own earthship (although that’s always an option). If you are building your own home, there are plenty of reasons to use building methods and materials that will make your house as energy-efficient as possible.
It’s not just for bragging rights at dinner parties either. Or to allow yourself to feel morally superior about your ecological credentials. Getting your house a top BER rating may cost a bit more in the short term but it’s an investment that pays for itself over time.
For example, the SEAI estimates that the annual fuel costs of a detached house with an A rating is€800 as opposed to €7,900 for a detached house with a G rating. Nice! So what can you do to help your self build to ace the BER examination? Here’s a few options to improve the energy efficiency of your new home.
Insulated Concrete Formwork
Insulated Concrete Formwork (ICF) is a structure of interlocking hollow blocks that are filled with concrete, although there are variations on the theme. These interconnected lightweight blocks form the walls of the house as an alternative to cement blocks and mortar.
You get all the strength, durability and waterproofing of concrete but ICF offers increased insulation, air tightness and soundproofing. It also improves heat retention, which means it costs less to keep your home warm. And that saves you money.
Timber frame houses
Timber frame houses may be something more commonly associated with our European cousins, but they are growing in popularity in Ireland. They come in various shapes and sizes and they’re warm, energy efficient and reduce the cost of heating. Not bad!
The fact that timber is a renewable material means that there’s also an ecological argument for it.
These guys can be constructed within a week, which is a very useful factor for those waiting to move in to their new abode.
One recommendation is to choose wisely when it comes to your timber frame provider and the people overseeing its construction. Make sure that they’ve worked with timber frame houses before to ensure that there are no issues with its erection.
Get a passive home
A passive home might sound like a strange concept – but it’s designed to retain heat and keep the cold out. These airtight homes don’t need a fireplace or heating sources. They use airtight construction, insulation, energy-efficient windows and ventilation systems to turn your home into a self-regulating living environment.
You get free heating from solar irradiation, which is a pretty good deal by any standard. It may sound too good to be true – but it works. And yes, although the initial costs may be higher than a normal build, you can then reap the benefits at your leisure.
Mind the gaps
If building an airtight house is a bit of a stretch, you can still apply some of the same principles with less cost. A common cause of energy inefficiency is heat loss through poor insulation or drafts.
Poorly-sealed doors or windows are obvious culprits for this type of problem. Splashing out on better quality doors and windows will give you peace of mind and will ensure that your heating systems are not working overtime to warm up your garden (!).
If it’s cold outside, you’ll wear a warm coat to keep yourself warm. The same principle applies to houses but you rarely see a semi-d wearing a fleece. There’s a simpler way to properly insulate your new home and ensure that everyone inside is wrapped up when the temperatures drop.
There are many types of home insulation, but most people know about cavity wall insulation, which is easy to do when building a new house. Insulating walls, attics and water tanks are common approaches but the importance of floor insulation has also been established in recent years.
Insulating it your home properly is a simple way to avoid waste and keep you cosy on those winter nights.
Tankless water heaters
The Irish obsession with the immersion switch tells you all you need to know about the potential for wasted money and energy when it comes to heating water. One solution is the tankless water heater. The neat thing about it is that it heats water as you need it rather than storing it.
Unsurprisingly, this will set you back more than a conventional heater but you don’t need to be an engineer to see the benefits. It’s easier to install a tankless water heater in a new build than to try and retroactively install it so it’s definitely worth considering for self builds.
Wags might point out that solar power in Ireland is a bit like hydropower in the middle of the desert but it’s a simple way to source free solar heat. The most common application of solar thermal energy is solar water heating.
Solar panels are generally located on south-facing roofs and solar water heating systems are generally sized to cover between 50% and 60% of a household’s hot water (that’s one way to make a serious saving!).
Solar PV (photovoltaic) panels can also generate electricity, which will reduce your energy bills and make your home more eco-friendly.
Are you thinking of building your own home?
The major advantage of building a new home is that you have the option to get a top BER rating, for years of energy savings. Using energy efficient technology can add to the value of your house too –an ultimate investment!
Check out this handy guide to building your home in Ireland, complete with stories from EBS customers who’ve already built a home.
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