The way we build and renovate is unsustainable, say climate experts

An Oireachtas Committee was told buildings account for one third of all emissions in Ireland.

Houses in Ireland today pollute as much as agriculture, if both operational carbon (the energy used to run the home) and embodied carbon (the energy it takes to build, repair and demolish) are taken into account.

That’s a figure the Irish Green Building Council gave the Oireachtas Committee on the Environment and Climate Action, stating that construction emissions actually amounted to 37 per cent of all emissions in Ireland.

Head of the IGBC Pat Barry told the Committee one solution is to invest in products with low embodied carbon: “Biobased materials require lower CO2 emissions to produce and sequester carbon. Only 24 per cent of newly constructed homes in Ireland are timber frame versus 75 per cent in Scotland.”

At the same hearing Dr Oliver Kinnane, lead researcher for a climate emergency project at UCD’s school of architecture, said that some energy retrofits were underperforming. According to the research, some buildings fell short of their stated A2 building energy rating (BER). They performed far worse in practice, at a C level on the BER scale.

While Kinnane said these represented a minority, it highlighted the need for more installer training for both insulation and making the structure airtight, and for sizing and installing heat pumps.

Demolition is another issue when it comes to embodied carbon, Kinnane added. “Young buildings, built only 30-40 years ago, are being demolished all over the city and country to be replaced by buildings of much greater floor area and materials of high embodied carbon,” he said. “The service life of buildings is constantly decreasing. This is unsustainable.”

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Written by Astrid Madsen

Astrid Madsen is the editor of the SelfBuild magazine. Email

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