Nenzing Nursing Home / Dietger Wissounig Architects. photo copyright Albrecht Imanuel Schnabel

Ireland is edging closer and closer to making our buildings more energy efficient with new Building Regulations becoming incrementally better as time goes on. Time will tell whether this is the correct approach as the IPCC Special Report on 1.5 °C shows that we need drastic reductions urgently. Is this incremental policy logical or are incremental energy efficiency improvements an economic disaster?

Despite certain local authorities’ efforts in Ireland to bravely take the lead over national government’s failure to regulate buildings appropriately, (Dublin City Council, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council), Ireland’s general Building Regulations remain at ‘Nearly Zero Energy Building’ standard, this is about half as efficient as a passive building, and costs the same.


Incremental Building Regulation improvements are the government’s way of trying to do the right thing without damaging an industry which is price sensitive. By gradually improving building standards, the cost of building energy efficient buildings is supposed to be acceptable to the once-strong CIF lobby.

From a design and certification industry point of view, incremental improvements are an economic disaster. Every few years, the designers and inspectors of buildings have to re-learn how to make buildings, details have to be re-invented, people re-trained, new products developed and systems changed, with all the inertia and redundancy that entails. Then, do this in a dysfunctional market with turmoil and loss of intellectual depth through emigration etc. and we have the current situation with little change towards sustainable buildings.


Balancing stability in the market with the need to improve practices is a tricky juggling-act for the government. The answer might be that it would be vastly more effective to segment the industry. Divide-and-conquer. Allow certain sectors to move straight to the end-game. This has already happened in private house building, where everyone wants a passive house, rather than the legal minimum energy standard.

By this, I mean, regulate that certain uses, must now be passive. This should start with buildings with the highest space heat demand, and with the highest demand for thermal comfort and high energy-costs. These are the buildings which would benefit most from the improved performance. Also, by making it sectoral, it would ensure the playing field is level for competing operators and investors.

The cost of achieving this would be negligible, as designers tend to be sectorally specific also. So a handful of teams could up-skill once, and continue to serve their market.

The beauty of it though, is that the government would incrementally be supporting the already expanding passive construction sector, allowing it to gradually replace unacceptable building practices. As the practice becomes the norm in a sector and the benefits established, the government can add another building type, most suitable to the standard, to the prescribed passive performance level.


Passive buildings are very stable in terms of temperature, have no cold spots or draughts. It is easy to heat them. Private residential buildings have a long history of passive construction. Nursing homes for the elderly are a very similar building type. But critically, the elderly tend to have specific comfort needs relative to the general population.

There is research that shows, variations in comfort conditions for people with dementia increases agitation (

Even those without dementia issues, tend to like higher temperatures than the general population. People with poorer circulation, struggle to regulate their own body temperature. Regulation of body temperature is central to our ability to fight infection.

This is true in relation to overheating as well as winter comfort. The elderly are less able to cope with heat waves, again a well designed passive building will stay cool in Summer.

This has already been achieved by Garry & Norma Gavigan in their extension to Glenashling Nursing Home in Celbridge built to the PassivHaus standard.

Maybe it is time the Nursing home industry united with the construction industry, and lobby the government together to take a brave step to creating great outcomes for their residents, and a safe future for their grandchildren.


The Hotel building-type has a huge heat demand, and the energy usage of this type of building would gain maximum benefit from the stable passivhaus temperature profile. The comfort factor achieved would be closely aligned with the product offer of the hotel industry. For more on this argument you can see my blog on Why Hotels would profit from Passive architecture here 


I would love to hear your comments on the cost plan and if you have any questions post them in the comments below and I will get back to you. Thank you for reading my blog on this issue and do share it using the buttons opposite!

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