In this series, we take a look at the key legislative changes affecting the construction industry in Scotland and the rest of the UK, brought about in light of the climate crisis. In this article, we consider the most recent changes to building regulations governing the energy efficiency and carbon output of buildings in Scotland.

Last month, the Scottish Government introduced changes to building regulations aimed at making both domestic and non-domestic buildings more environmentally friendly and energy efficient.

These changes, which took effect on 1 February 2023, affect sections 3 and 6 of the Building (Scotland) Regulations 2004 and are detailed within the domestic and non-domestic technical handbooks.

But what exactly do they entail?

We take a look at the four key changes to the regulations below:

1. Stricter emissions targets. Higher targets have been introduced for the energy and emission performance of new buildings, which will result in a 32% reduction in carbon emissions for domestic buildings and a 20% reduction for non-domestic buildings as compared with prior targets.

2. Focussing on energy efficiency. The new requirements place greater emphasis on increasing energy efficiency through the introduction of the “Target Delivered Energy Rate” (“TDER”) as a method of measuring a building's expected energy demand. This new approach, which is intended to eventually replace the existing “Target Emission Rate”, shifts the focus from a building's carbon output to the amount of energy it will require to function. In practice, this should translate to lower energy bills for building owners as low-energy heating systems and other energy-saving systems are installed in new buildings to meet TDER targets.

3. Higher fabric standards for homes. Lower u-value targets for building fabric have also been introduced. The lower the u-value of a fabric, the more slowly heat is able to transmit through it and so the better it performs as an insulator. This ultimately means that more insulation (and/or better insulating materials) will be required in new-build homes to meet the new requirements

4. Avoiding overheating. It’s not all about keeping the heat in. In order to prevent the overheating of highly-insulated buildings in hot weather and the corresponding need for energy-consuming mechanical ventilation such as air conditioning (yes, even in Scotland!) new requirements for “overheating checks” have been introduced for new dwellings. Checks will involve checking the number of windows and openings in a building to ensure solar gains are not excessive and free air movement is supported.

    As with other requirements in the building regulations, the changes will all be enforced via the building warrant process. Put simply, in order to secure a building warrant, a proposed building must comply with the new sustainability requirements. The new requirements apply to any application for a building warrant submitted after 1 February 2023.

    What’s next?

    Scotland’s homes and buildings account for approximately one-fifth of all of the country’s emissions. As a result, the construction industry is a key focus for legislators looking to slash emissions. This means that the 2023 changes are only the tip of the iceberg, with a whole raft of changes to be introduced over the next few years.

    As a result, designers and contractors will want to keep a close eye on upcoming plans in order to stay ahead of the curve and ensure as smooth a transition as possible. Some will look to self-impose changes well in advance of them being required by law.

    With that in mind, stay tuned for our next instalment, as our focus shifts to what changes 2024 will bring.

    Contributors

    Lucy McCracken

    Senior Solicitor