Ireland's septic tanks — net zero NY campus — thumbs down to white roofs?

Hi all, it's been a ridiculously long time since I've updated the  blog for various reasons, sorry about that. More normal service should resume now. Here's a few interesting links to get things kick-started again. 

What lies beneath — Ireland's septic tanks Ireland After Nama

Activity map of Ireland's unfinished estates, 2011 Ireland After Nama

Fibreglass company threatens to sue blogger (interesting story) Green Building Advisor

Top ten air leaks in existing homes Green Building Advisor

A net zero energy campus in New York city Green Building Advisor

Bigger houses, smaller energy bills: can it be done? Reuters

In the US, the energy efficiency of a house could soon be factored into a home's value Los Angeles Times

Plans to combat global warming by painting roofs white could backfire Guardian

Solar Decathlon kicks off — a school built from plastic bottles — the best green building blogs

Here's our semi-regular round up of links that might be of interest. Have a good weekend everyone. 

The 2011 Solar Decathlon — which challenges US university teams to build solar-powered homes over a week — is under way. Follow their blog and Twitter updates. Here's a video tour of just one of the projects.

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Building a school from plastic bottles for $10,000

Is green building really for everyone? Green Building Advisor

Do hybrid solar thermal-PV panels increase efficiency? Jetson Green

The cost of solar PV technology continues to drop Jetson Green

Seven green building blogs you should be reading Centre for Alternative Technology

Timber frame self build: an empowering journey in sustainable building skills Centre for Alternative Technology

Thoughts on a sustainable human ecosystem The Oil Drum

Peak oil — now or later? Energy Bulletin

Is this "zero net energy home" a model for mainstream housing in the future? Treehugger

Weather compensation in gas boilers

Heating expert Des Flynn of RVR outlines the importance of weather compensation in boiler systems.

Weather compensation is a control strategy which is used to adjust the heat output of a boiler in proportion to the outdoor air temperature. This is generally implemented by adjusting the setpoint of the central heating flow temperature so that the flow temperature increases as the outdoor air temperature decreases. This is shown in the following graph.

Heating systems are designed for worst case weather conditions. In Ireland the outside design temperature will be between -3ºC and -10ºC depending on the location. The central heating flow temperature required at the design temperature is usually about 80ºC.

However the average outside air temperature during the heating season is much higher than this. In most locations it is about 8ºC. Under these average conditions the higher central heating flow temperature is not required.

The weather compensation system monitors the outside air temperature and adjusts the central heating flow temperature accordingly.

Flow water temperatures are kept as low as possible resulting in higher system efficiencies. There is a particular benefit when weather compensation is used with condensing gas boilers as the efficiency of the boiler is greatly increased.

The efficiency of a condensing boiler is dependant on the return water temperature. The lower the return water temperature the more efficient the boiler.

When the combustion products are below their dew point of about 55ºC, the boiler is in condensing mode and its’ efficiency increases almost exponentially. Weather compensation is of advantage in systems where high temperature heat emitters such as radiators are used as it allows the system temperature to decrease sufficiently for the boiler to condense.

A boiler which heats radiators and is not fitted with weather compensation will rarely be in condensing mode and will have a much lower efficiency than a boiler which does.

Comfort is also enhanced as the output of the Central Heating system automatically adapts itself to the weather conditions. This results in a reduction in ON/OFF cycles of the boiler.

An important aspect of weather compensation is ensuring that any hot water demand is satisfied at a higher temperature if the boiler is running in weather compensated mode.  As domestic hot water is usually heated to 60ºC, high temperature boiler water is needed to do this. To allow this, boilers can use a feature called “Hot water priority”.  This is achieved by having separate flow and return pipes for the central heating and the domestic water heating tank.  When there is a demand for hot water heating from a water heater thermostat or sensor the boiler diverts the flow to the water heating tank, gives priority to hot water heating and raises its flow temperature to 80ºC until the hot water demand is satisfied.

Straw bale housing — demolishing unfinished estates — tribute to green pioneer Ray Anderson

Here's a round up of some green building and energy links that might be of interest. Busy at work here on the new issue of the mag — a passive house special edition, which goes to print early next week.

Straw houses baling out council building plans in the UK Guardian (with images here)

Demolishing Ireland's unfinished estates Ireland After Nama

Controversy brewing: the German Passivhaus Institut disowns its US satellite Green Building Advisor (more here)

Profile of the "ultra green" Zero Cottage in  California Jetson Green

Insulating old brick buildings Green Building Advisor

A green roof evolves at the Museum of London Treehugger

Why the US Energy Information Administration's analysis of peak oil is flawed Energy Bulletin

Leading green architect Michelle Kaufmann remembers sustainability pioneer and entrepreneur Ray Anderson, who died on 8 August

Solar Decathlon 2011 just around the corner

The 2011 US Solar Decathlon — which challenges university teams of architects, engineers and students to design houses powered by the sun — kicks off on September 22 this year. Below is a video walkthrough of the design from one of the competing institutions, Appalachian State University. You can check out video walkthroughs for all the projects here, read about them all here, and get regular updates on Facebook and Twitter too. Construct Ireland previously took a detailed look at some of the buildings that competed in the 2009 US Solar Decathlon. 

The first ever European Solar Decathlon was held in Madrid last year, with an American college emerging as the winner. We also published an extensive profile of one of the entrants to that competition, the Nottingham House, in the magazine. 

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Oil price shock coming? — mapping Ireland's empty houses — passive house boom

Here's our usual round up of interesting links — have a good weekend everyone. The new issue of the mag goes to print next week. 

Buried Treasure — a look at former Man United captain Gary Neville's underground house Michelle Kaufmann

Brace yourselves for the next oil price shock Energy Bulletin

Would you like to cover your house in "solar ivy"? Inhabitat

School built in four weeks from recycled shipping containers following earthquake Treehugger

Where are most of Ireland's vacant houses? Ireland After Nama

Advisers say UK government should force energy companies to insulate homes Guardian

Are these the top ten green building products of 2011? Jetson Green

Eight reasons for the growth of the passive house standard Jetson Green

Building a low embodied energy house

We're busy at work on the new issue, hence the lack of updates, but to keep things ticking over here's an interesting Ted talk looking the kind of choices green builders and designers face when it comes to the environmental impact of construction materials. 

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UK prepares for peak oil — Dublin's derelict buildings — Apple's new "spaceship"

Here's our usual round up of links that might be of interest:

To the surprise of many, Opec decides not to raise its oil production CNN

The British government appears to recognise that global oil supply will fall behind demand in the next five years Energy Bulletin

New uses for Dublin's derelict public buildings? Ireland After Nama

The Velux Sunlighthouse claims to be Austria's zero carbon and energy neutral house Inhabitat

Steve Jobs reveals Apple's plans for a new spaceship-shaped campus with lots of green space Inhabitat

Calculating the global warming impact of different insulation materials Green Building Advisor

Profile of an "affordable" passive house in Canada Green Building Advisor

An in-depth look at the deep energy retrofit of a Boston apartment block Metropolis Magazine

Can an entire house be recycled? CS Monitor


Doubts raised over government's claims for Better Energy programme

SEAI's Brian Motherway (left), energy minister Pat Rabitte (centre) and the Department of Energy's Stjohn O'Connor launch the government's Better Energy upgrade programme on 11 May.

Earlier this month, energy minister Pat Rabbitte announced an "additional" €30M in government funding for building energy upgrade programmes for 2011. The government said the funds would "support an additional 2,000 jobs in 2011". These figures were reported largely without criticism in the national media. But they appear to be quite dubious, as our series of blog posts over the last few weeks has shown. Here's why:

The government claims the €30M in funding is additional to the money the previous government had committed to energy upgrades for 2011 (€60M). But the previous Fianna Fáil—Green government also announced a tax relief on home energy efficiency upgrades in Budget 2011, and this has yet to be introduced. The total value the last government pledged to fund the energy efficiency tax relief? €30M.

The tax relief will only be introduced if the minister for finance, Michael Noonan, signs a commencement order. The Department of Finance told Construct Ireland that it cannot state when or if the order will be signed. Commencement orders for budget measures sometimes remain unsigned for years — or forever.

Construct Ireland suspects the commencement order will remain unsigned, and that the €30M tax relief will quietly slip away. If we're correct, the government's claim to be putting an "additional" €30M into Better Energy is dubious. The tax relief may not have been part of that programme, but it was nonetheless an investment in making buildings more energy efficient.

We asked the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (DCENR) how the 2,000 jobs figure was calculated. It replied:

The number of jobs is derived from the additional monies allocated by the government which we know will leverage similar levels of private funding in what are labour intensive works and based upon the typical wages in the sector.

But if the money isn't really "additional", neither are the jobs. After all, the tax relief would have created jobs too. What's more, the 2,000 jobs figure does not appear to take into account potential job losses from the withdrawal of grants for heat pumps and biomass boilers — Construct Ireland is already hearing about companies losing work due to these grants being pulled.

We also emailed DCENR asking why it withdrew grants for some renewable technologies while maintaining support for oil and gas boilers, but a spokesperson did not address the question directly, and simply said:

The grant available for a new oil or gas boiler only represents a contribution to the additional cost incurred by the homeowner in choosing a high efficiency boiler (i.e. >90% efficiency) versus the standard required by the building regulations (i.e. >86% efficiency). The homeowner must also install heating controls in order to avail of the €160 subsidy.

Better Energy: questions answered?

Earlier this week we sent three questions to the Department of Communications, Energy & Natural Resources (DCENR) on the government's Better Energy building upgrade programme. Here's how they responded:

CI: Has the proposed tax relief on energy efficient works for homeowners that was announced in Budget 2011 been scrapped? 

DCENR: The tax relief announced in Budget 2011 is subject to a commencement order, which at this point has not been brought forward by the Minister for Finance.  

CI: The press pack that accompanied the launch of Better Energy said the government had previously set aside €60m for energy efficiency upgrades in 2011. But the budget set aside €69.252m for capital expenditure for "sustainable energy programmes". Was the €60m figure a typo?

DCENR: The original budget allocation for retrofit was around €60 million for capital works with the balance set aside for current.

CI: How was the department's estimate that the "additional" €30m funding for 2011 would create an extra 2,000 jobs calculated? Did this figure take into account any potential job losses from the withdrawal of grants for heat pumps and biomass boilers?  

DCENR: Applications for heat pumps and biomass boilers have declined considerably in recent months with applications in these areas representing in the order of 10% of the total applications received. This was factored into our calculations.

Note: We would presume it is now highly unlikely there will be any commencement order for the €30m tax relief referred to in question one — this makes it potentially dubious for the government to claim it is putting an additional €30m into Better Energy. As you can see, our query as to how the 2,000 jobs estimate was calculated was largely ignored. 

Will Better Energy really create 2,000 extra jobs?

Last week, we raised some questions about the accuracy of the government's claims that its new Better Energy building upgrade programme represents an additional €30m investment over what was initially promised for 2011.

The other big claim the government made was the €30m figure would create an extra 2,000 jobs this year. Of course, if the €30m is not actually new funding, but just a re-allocation from a tax relief on energy efficiency works that appears to have been scrapped, the 2,000 figure looks highly questionable. Is the department claiming that putting €30m into Better Energy is creating 2,000 more jobs than would have been created by the tax relief?

The government says its €30m investment will be matched by €30m of private sector investment. So that's €60m altogether. So is it simply presuming this will yield 2,000 jobs with an average wage of €30,000, or is its calculation — as one would hope — more sophisticated?

Also, has it considered the potential for job losses in the heat pump and biomass boiler sectors due to the withdrawal of grants from those industries? We're already hearing about companies coming under serious pressure due to the removal of grants. Of course from the government's point of view, the purpose of grants is to stimulate a market to  a point where it's healthy and there's a good range of choice for consumers. It clearly thinks the heat pump and biomass boiler sectors are now there, making it the right time to remove the grants.

But what kind of message does it send to eliminate grants for heat pumps and biomass boilers while maintaining support for oil and gas boilers?

We've put questions on all of the above to the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and are hoping to have a response in the next few days.

High oil prices dampens economic recovery — is peak coal here? — NY passive house project

Here's our usual round up of links that might interest you: 

It seems high oil prices are strangling global economy recovery. According to the FT: "Four months after the OECD warned that soaring oil prices could damage the economic recovery...that IEA has noticed that global oil demand has begun to flatten." Financial Times. This is a point we've been making as part of our Energise Ireland campaign — it's one reason we urgently need to wean Ireland off imported oil. If you agree, please sign the petition at the Energise Ireland website. 

Renewable energy can power the world, says the UN Guardian

Does preserving historic buildings save energy or not? Green Building Advisor

Profile of a passive hour project in New York Green Building Advisor

Have we reached peak coal? Energy Bulletin

Profile of a Spanish "grow home", designed to be "expanded and changed to fit the space needs and budget of its owners". Treehugger

The case for government investment in public transport — this argument applies to the US, but it makes sense for Ireland too The Infrastructurist

Biomass electricity production: how green is it? Green Building Advisor

Better Energy — is the new funding just a sleight of hand?

Launching its Better Energy building upgrade programme earlier this week, the Department of Communications, Energy & Natural Resources said it had committed "an additional 30m towards the programme" for 2011. It added that "capital funding of 60m was allocated for energy efficiency initiatives in Budget 2011". So reading the press pack, you get the impression the previous government allocated 60m, and the current one is now adding 30m to that.

But is this really the case? 

As part of his last budget, former finance minister Brian Lenihan introduced a tax credit scheme — under this, homeowners could claim a tax credit on home energy efficiency works. Lenihan set aside 30m for the scheme for 2011.

But there was no mention of the tax credits as part of the launch of Better Energy, and the scheme does not appear to be open or imminent. Has it been dropped, and if so can the government claim the 30m of additional funding it announced on Wednesday is extra?

What's more, while the Better Energy press pack says "capital funding of 60m was allocated for energy efficiency initiatives in Budget 2011", the figure in the budget actually appears to be 69m. The 60m figure may be a typo, but if not it means that a total of 99m originally set aside for this year has now become 90m.

We hope to have a reply from the department to clarify things shortly. 





It's time to Energise Ireland: our campaign for a green economic and energy revolution

Hey everyone, we've just launched our Energise Ireland campaign for a green energy and economic revolution in Ireland. We need all the support we can get for what we believe is a vital campaign — you can read the manifesto and sign the petition at the campaign website, and follow us on Twitter too. 

Energise Ireland has five key aims, all of which we believe are crucial to developing a sustainable, thriving economy in Ireland.

1. Become oil free & no longer a net energy importer by 2025. If we don't do this, the rising cost of importing oil will stifle our economic recovery.

2. Develop green bonds to offer Irish citizens a safe, patriotic investment in sustainable energy projects.

3. Upgrade the entire building stock to net zero carbon by 2020, by retrofitting buildings and switching to renewable heat and electricity.

4. End fuel poverty by 2015 to protect the health of the most vulnerable in society while reducing cost to the taxpayer.

5. Implement world leading green public procurement requirements, giving Irish suppliers an innovation edge for export.

For anyone uncertain, here's a reminder of why it's crucial for us to wean off oil as soon as possible. 

Let us know what you think about the campaign — email us at info [at], or comment below. And if you like it, please sign the petition

Oil price to stifle recovery — world's first zero carbon city — Victorian passive house  

Here's a few interesting links for your perusal. Apologies for the lack of updates recently, producing the new issue of the mag was a bit of a marathon, but we hope it was worth it. Normal service on the website should resume now.

International Energy Agency chief economist Fatih Birol has warned that the price of oil could stifle global economic recovery over the next few years — a point we at Construct Ireland have made repeatedly in an Irish context, just as we're about to launch our Energise Ireland campaign to make Ireland oil free by 2025. In this radio programme, Birol warns that, "higher oil prices means putting pressure on the trade balance and through that economic recovery efforts can be well strangled." ABC Radio

A new way to duct HRVs: should they be pulling stale air from bedrooms rather than 'wet' rooms? Green Building Advisor

A Victorian home in the UK meets the passive house standard Green Building Advisor

New study finds solar panels are contagious

A profile of Masdar, the world's first "zero carbon city" Guardian (with pictures here)

Average Irish house prices could still be overvalued by up to 30% Irish Times

What will be the fate of architectural heritage in the Nama portfolio? Ireland after Nama

Natural gas: not as clean as we thought? Infrastructurist

Easca and Green Works present green building forum

Easca and Green Works will host a green building forum on 6 May in Dublin. The theme of the event will be the question of how to create a fully sustainable built environment by 2030 in Ireland.

Leading national and international speakers will be presenting, including Pooran Desai, co-founder of green entrepreneurial charity Bioregional and Noel Morrin of multinational construction firm Skanska. Kelly Grainger of Interface will talk about "closed loop production", and architect Tom Wooley will discuss opportunities for Ireland to develop natural construction materials. Mike Haslam from leading green architects Solearth and sustainable design consultant Jay Stuart of DWEcoCo will also speak.

The forum will also include seminars on various building rating methods, such as Leed, Breeam, Spear and the Living Building Challenge. A discussion on which of these tools Ireland should adopt will follow. There will also be a workshop on how Ireland can "create sustainable communities from the detritus of the boom". This will examine the role of unemployed architects and urban designers in rejuvenating the city of Barcelona, and it will also look at opportunities for Nama to help create the sustainable communities.

This forum is free for jobseekers who register with Green Works, otherwise the price is €50. There is a concession rate of €30 for members of Easca, the RIAI, Engineers Ireland, the Society of Chartered Surveyors, the Irish Property and Facility Management Association, the Irish Planning Institute, and attendees of Easca's Green Building Users Group.

Floating Dutch neighbourhood — are smart grids a good idea? — why dismantle the planning act?

Here's a few interesting links for your reading pleasure. Have a good weekend everyone, and do leave your comments and feedback below. 

Architecture that adapts to a changing climate: floating neighbourhood in the Netherlands Treehugger

Floating neighbourhood at Ijburg, Amsterdam. Photo by Michael Edwards.

Do smart grids increase energy use, endanger the environment and harm public health? Energy Bulletin

How big is the 2011 oil price shock, and what is the relationship between the oil price rises and economic downturn? Financial Times

Conflicting stories over whether the heating system was working in the home of young mother who died of hypothermia in Ballymun, Dublin Irish Times

Here's some nifty Tokyo apartments I'm linking to for no apparent reason: Flickr

Interesting blog post speculating on the "deaths per watt produced" of nuclear, oil and coal power: Seth Godin

When is removing a major road a good idea? Infrastructurist

New glass windows with integrated solar PV: Jetson Green

New York's first passive house: Jetson Green

British government accused of giving in to construction lobby and abandoning plan for zero carbon homes Guardian

Excellent blog post from Rob Kitchin from NUI Maynooth on Fine Gael-Labour's plans to review the planning act and potentially remove ministerial oversight of council planning decisions that were introduced by John Gormley. Kitchin writes: "A cynic would suggest that the new Ministerial powers were unpopular at the local level because they were used to stop councillors undertaking excessive zoning and giving inappropriate permissions (the result of which led to way too much zoned land and an excess of housing, offices, hotels and retail space).  Local councillors and local TDs want such powers removed so they can get back to business as usual..." Ireland After Nama

Sustainable development vs historic preservation — a false dichotomy Treehugger

A look at public infrastructure bonds in the US — would something similar work here to help fund retrofit on a massive scale? Infrastructurist

Houses made from meat — homes of the future — off grid in the desert

Happy Monday everyone. Here's a few links that might be of interest:

Growing homes from plants, and, um, meat:

Putting a shower in the living room: has space saving architecture gone too far? Treehugger

Good hospital design has an impact on patient recovery, says the British Medical Association Treehugger

NUI Maynooth geographer Rob Kitchin reviews the aspects of the programme of government that relate to housing and planning Ireland after Nama

What will a typical home be like in the 2050s? Sustainable Cities Collective

A Glow in the Desert: profile of an off-grid desert house New York Times

Two stories about urban spaces in Ireland that you may have missed: Dublin City Council kicks green space to touch (Irish Times), and can Dublin follow New York's pedestrianisation lead? (Dublin Observer)

Commercial buildings must disclose their energy ratings (Guardian)

The new programme for government: good or bad for energy, buildings and the environment?

Most of the national media's focus on the new programme for government has naturally centred around Fine Gael and Labour's economic plans. But what does the document say about the government's policies on buildings, energy and the environment? I went through it this morning to pick out the highlights. There appear to be good intentions, but much of the language remains vague. That's par for the course with a document that has to be drawn up as quickly as this.  We should start to hear more about specific policies in the coming months as new ministers are appointed and settle into their roles.

The new government says it will:

Energy efficiency in buildings

  • double funding of home energy efficiency and renewable energy programmes (presumably the Home Energy Saving and Greener Homes schemes), but end them by 2014.
  • introduce a 'pay as you save' scheme in 2014 to replace grants, allowing homeowners to pay for energy upgrades over time on their utility bills (Construct Ireland lobbied extensively for a scheme like this in 2009 and 2010)
  • tender for a 'pay as you save' contract to insulate all public buildings
  • move towards zero carbon homes "in the longer term" - what is meant by "zero carbon" and "longer term" is unclear. Will the new government keep the previous one's commitment to "zero carbon" new homes by 2013?


  • establish Ireland as a "renewable manufacturing hub" and a "centre of excellence in the management of carbon" - exactly what these terms mean (particularly the latter) or how they will be achieved is not specified
  • Merge Bora Na Mona with Coilte to create a new company called BioEnergy Ireland that will become a "global leader" in "next generation bioenergy technologies", and will plant 14,700 hectares of forestry annually
  • publish a climate change bill to provide a "clear pathway for emissions reductions" in line with the EU's 2020 targets - this suggests the last government's climate change bill might be scrapped, as it was incorrectly perceived by the opposition to be tougher than the EU 2020 targets
  • "legislate to support the geothermal energy sector"
  • cluster new wind farms in areas with the best "wind regime" to reduce cost of connection to the grid - the idea here is for the government to plan the growth of wind farms rather than developers. But will this slow down the growth of the sector?
  • aim to "maximise return to the Irish people" from offshore oil and gas reserves
  • ensure that only the most "cost effective" projects are supported by the renewable energy feed in tariff, and set the tariff at a level "not significantly above" the all Ireland market price for electricity


  • accelerate capital works that are "shovel ready" and "labour intensive" - it's not clear what projects the government sees as meeting these criteria
  • invest heavily, through semi state companies, in "next generation" infrastructure in energy, broadband, forestry and water over the next four years
  • establish Irish Water, a new state company that will take over water investment and maintenance from local authorities
  • create a new "smart grid" company with full ownership of Ireland's electricity and gas networks, following a handover of the ESB's "transmission assets" to Eirgird - is the removal of the network from ESB's remit a hint that the government is planning to privatise the company?


  • target up to €2 billion in sales from "non strategic state assets" - it's believed FG and Labour see Bord Gais and ESB as falling under this category
  • "bring forward a coherent plan to resolve the problems associated with ghost estates" - no specifics are given
  • commit to "urban regeneration to revitalise communities in areas such as Limerick" - again, the language remains vague
  • require that the selling price of all dwellings is recorded on a public national house price database
  • introduce a "mandatory compliance bond" to ensure construction waste is properly managed and recycled - I take this to mean that developers will have to pay a bond that will only be returned if they can demonstrate waste from a project was properly recycled or disposed of
  • ratify the Aarhus Convention that gives the public access to information and participation in decision-making on environmental issues - green campaigners have been pushing for this one for a long time, but it was also in the 2007 programme for government and has yet to be fully implemented
  • allow domestic turf cutting on 75 National Heritage Area sites subject to a "code of environmental practices"
  • "re-balance transport policy in favour of public transport" - there are no specifics on the government's plans for public transport, however, except to establish a cabinet sub-committee on the issue and to support public bike schemes
  • exempt farm diesel from further increases in the carbon tax
That's what stood out for me in term of energy and the environment. What's your reaction to the document?