"The Government launched its long-awaited consultation on proposed changes to the Building Regulations this week, setting out a number of proposals designed to boost energy efficiency.

The Government has has made great efforts to mitigate the cost impact on house builders of achieving Part L from next year by setting an improvement target of 8% in additional carbon savings compared to the 25% that the industry had been told to expect by the previous government. There is no plan to drop the objective of zero carbon homes from 2016, so the step change will be all the more dramatic three years further down the road.

Carbon reduction demands for non-domestic buildings are more ambitious at 20% from 2013 and are likely to require building-integrated renewable energy technologies as well as improvements to the building fabric. For new homes, however, the aim is that incremental improvements to the main building elements such as walls and windows should be sufficient.

There consultation also outlines further positive moves to boost energy efficiency. The first is the requirement for 'consequential' energy efficiency improvements to existing homes that will be trigged by other building work. The proposal is that improvements would become mandatory when controlled works such as extensions, loft conversions and replacement windows are undertaken.

Some of these consequential regulations could arrive as early as October this year to tie-in with the launch of the government's Green Deal. The government feels able to make such demands because home owners and landlords will be given the option of getting the additional works at no upfront cost through the Green Deal framework. Ministers have identified Part L as a means of driving Green Deal take-up and confounding industry scepticism that large-scale consumer demand will be there.

The other surprise for house builders is the proposal for a new quality assurance standard using Part L to incentivise take up – any developer of new housing choosing not to adopt the standard would face the prospect of having to achieve an additional 3% carbon reduction on top of the 8% universal improvement from next year.

The move is the government's attempt to close the gap between design intentions and the energy standards actually achieved in built homes and so dramatically improve the rate of Part L compliance.

Different parts of the construction industry supply chain are being asked to come together to develop a standard in readiness for 2013. The need for all developers of new housing to demonstrate that an accreditation standard will be achieved, or face a cost penalty, could prove to be an opportunity for architects. A quality-assured approach to detailed design specifications and energy calculations, as well as some form of certification for standards of workmanship, will have to be formally demonstrated.

Alan Shingler, chair of RIBA Sustainable Futures, welcomed the linking of the Green Deal to consequential work requirements as a means of meeting up-front costs, but was apprehensive about comments by communities minister Andrew Stunnell that the cost of meeting Part L will have to be compensated by deregulatory measures elsewhere. Stunell has indicated that if the overall regulatory burden on house builders cannot be reduced, this week’s proposals might have to be adjusted.

'We cannot afford to see any further dilution in carbon reduction levels for new homes. What we urgently need is clarity without U-turns or loopholes, so the industry can plan, adapt and invest on a low carbon future,' said Shingler.

This week's consultation is not restricted to Part L, but is presented in four sections: section one outlines the CLG's consultation approach and presents proposals to change various technical aspects of the regulations; section two outlines proposals to improve energy efficiency (Part L); section three contains proposals to relax the scope of electrical works covered by regulations (Part P); and section four outlines changes to the building control system.

Specific consultation proposals include radon protection, Changing Places toilets, domestic security, structural safety (Eurocodes), fire safety, the use of Access Statements, rationalisation of Parts M, K and N and revising the Approved Document supporting Regulation 7".

Courtesy of RIBA Practice Bulletin 629