Irish Building Regulations & Death of Fireplaces

OnlineTradesmen CEO, Ted Laverty, recently contributed his 2 cents to the debate around the decline of fireplaces in new house builds on Newstalk. You can hear the full transcript here.

The discussion became ‘Topical’ because Dermot Bannon of Room to Improve fame indicated that including a fireplace in a new house build might result an architect or other certifying professional refusing to issue a compliance certificate under the 2014 Ireland  building regulations. All factual and correct so far, but then TD Michael Healy Rea jumped on the bandwagon to say how it was an affront to rural Irish life or something similar. To be fair, with the fragile political process at the moment, some people might need to be in the news.. ;-)

In reality there is nothing new or topical about this issue. The 2014 building regulations, imperfect as they are, specify that new homes built as part of a development have to reach minimum energy efficiency rating – currently standing at a B1 rating (soon to be an A3 rating apparently). This rating is calculated taking in a range of environmental and systemic factors such as the insulation in your home, ventilation and the efficiency of your heating systems. Each factor is considered and combined to get to an overall rating – so where poor insulation will bring your homes rating down, a highly efficient heating system can improve it.

The fireplace dilemma

The problem with open fireplaces is that they are simply not energy efficient in any way. So if you have one, you would need to offset its poor rating with other more expensive measures to achieve a high energy rating standard. You’d really need to love your fireplace to make such a decision…more on that below!

Why are open fireplaces not energy efficient?

Effectively an open fireplace create a big hole in your roof where heat can escape. When it is not in use, heat generated expensively from other sources simply escapes into the big blue sky (you can however use a chimney balloon to restrict this heat loss). Even when lit, up to 70% of the heat it generates takes the same route – meaning that nearly 3 out of every 4 bales of turf that you use are effectively gone up in smoke. Woosh. You’d really, really need to love your fireplace…

But we really love our fireplace

Sure we do. We grew up with them in Ireland. As the old Bord Na Mona ad went, there is nothing quite coming home like an open fire. A home is not a home without a fire. Etc.

But in reality how many of us still go to the trouble of buying the fuel, building the fire and cleaning the hearth after a hard day’s work? Are we willing to incur the unnecessary costs and additional work to keep them burning? We might love them but it’s hard to argue for them in anything other than emotional terms.

And building regulations don’t do emotion. They are there to improve building standards, longevity and energy efficiency.  Put simply, open fireplaces don’t fit into this picture. This fact is borne out by inspecting the (very few) new house developments going up in Ireland in 2016 – most don’t have a fireplace in the sitting room. Most are going on sale with A3 and A2 energy ratings being touted prominently on their sales brochures. Efficiency sells, fireplaces don’t.

But I want one anyway…

Ok, we don’t live in a nanny state. If you already have one in your home, nobody is telling you to remove it – but bear in mind it does negatively effect your BER rating. If you are building a one-off home or a house extension, also not a problem. These structures are exempt from certification if you choose to go this way, so your build can progress regardless of a fireplace or not. But the BER  rating aspect still applies.

But fret ye not - for anyone still drawn in by the vision of a warm fire flickering away in the centre of your room there is a viable alternative in wood burning stoves or similar. Sealed stoves retain some of the authenticity of an open fire but are much more efficient. You only lose (a mere) 20% of the heat generated and it is sealed so you don’t lose ambient heat from other sources through the chimney.

In Summary

Fireplaces are here to stay but will likely be phased over a long time as housing stock gets replenished. The building regulations will continue to evolve but likely for the better. As for politicians looking for a quick soundbite? In the current political climate, who knows…



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