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Snake oil' could hit carbon goals

Construction companies must not overstate the energy efficiency claims of their products, according to a senior industry figure. John Colley, president of the Construction Products Association (CPA), used the organisations’ annual lunch to argue that ambitious carbon emissions reduction goals would be difficult to achieve if public support was lost through over-sold products. “The industry needs to be vigilant,” he said. “We must be wary of people making claims for their products in terms of energy efficiency that cannot be supported by independent assessment. Public support is vital if we are to achieve the long term goals that Government is setting and so we have to ensure that we make available quality products that do what they say they do.” Mr Colley also stressed the need to work with contractors to ensure products were properly installed and maintained throughout their lifetime. He said that zero carbon must be for life and not just the first few weeks that a building is occupied. Andrew Eastwell, chief executive of BSRIA, agreed this was a key issue in terms of carbon emission targets, but cast doubt on whether the general public was capable of spotting a gap between promised and delivered energy savings. “One problem is that it is rarely obvious if a product or installation is not working properly. For example, would a householder know if their cavity wall had been filled properly or not?” said Mr Eastwell. “It’s usually only obvious if the thing fails totally. This means the market for snake oil can flourish undetected for a long time.” A second difficulty identified by Mr Eastwell was defining suitable test standards so that representative loads can be applied to particular products.  For example, the contribution that a solar hot water system might provide to a household is dependent not only on having available sunshine and an efficient construction but also on when the hot water is used. Bob Towse, head of technical and safety at the HVCA, felt the client would prove key in pushing the industry to prove energy efficiency over a long period of time. “As energy costs rise I am sure that clients will start pushing us to deliver more efficient buildings. We all must work to ensure that energy efficiency is maintained over the life of the building. “This may mean accepting that services in a building will need to be upgraded during its life to take advantage of technological advances.”