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Passive house standard mandatory for new builds in Dublin council

Earlier this year, a local authority in Dublin passed a historic motion, requiring that all new buildings meet strict passive house standards or equivalent.

As part of the county development plan for 2016-22, the new requirement will help to ensure that all new-build homes across the region are cheaper to heat and better for the environment. Passive House Plus also reports that the measure could lead to some 20,000 passive houses being constructed in the area between now and 2022.

The motion says: "All new buildings will be required to meet the passive house standard or equivalent, where reasonably practicable." 

It goes on to explain that "equivalent" means: "Approaches supported by robust evidence (such as monitoring studies) to demonstrate their efficacy, with particular regard to indoor air quality, energy performance, comfort, and the prevention of surface/interstitial condensation."

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown (DLR) County Council adopted the plan in February. The motion was sponsored by Fine Gael councillor Marie Baker and was passed by a majority of 27-10.

It was supported by members of every political party, including nine out of eleven Fine Gael councillors and four out of seven Fianna Fáil councillors. All Green Party, Sinn Fein and People Before Profit councillors voted for the measure, as did five out of six independents. Only one of the council’s seven Labour councillors voted for the policy, meaning Labour was the only party where a majority of councillors didn’t vote for the policy.

Overstepping the bounds?

Prior to the vote, questions were raised about the council's legal ability to pass regulations of this nature. 

The Department of the Environment suggested that the minister may consider using his powers under Section 31 of the Planning and Development Act to try to compel the council to remove the policy. 

However, solicitor Philip Lee, a leading authority on planning, European and energy law, disagrees that DLR County Council is acting beyond of its authority.

"We can find nothing in law that says that a local authority cannot go for a higher standard than the building regulations," he said.

In fact, Mr Lee believes that local councils should aim for higher standards because building regulations are out of date.

"Unquestionably, Dun Laoghaire or Finagal or Dublin City Council is completely correct to go for a higher standard because we're wrong in law to have regulations that go back to 2005 in terms of what standard of energy efficiency we put in our buildings," he explained.

What is a passive house?

A passive house (also known by the German name, passivhaus) is a dwelling that meets rigorous standards for energy efficiency. These homes require little energy for space heating or cooling, as they are able to effectively maintain the heat that's already in the building - from people, lighting and appliances.

To attain such a high level of efficiency, these buildings are designed holistically, with everything from the shape of the house, its interior layout, the direction it faces and the local landscape taken into consideration. These homes also have excellent thermal insulation and special attention is given to eliminate thermal bridges.