George Clarke says every home in Britain needs a MOT.

Original Article
March 27th, 2013


The other day the TV presenter and architect George Clarke opened Plumb Centre’s Practical Installer Arena at Ecobuild and took the opportunity to call for every home in Britain to have an MOT.

Clarke is best known for Channel 4’s programme Restoration Man and studied architecture at the University of Newcastle and University College London – so his call can be said to have some weight behind it – he should know what he is talking about.  Clarke’s message was simple; vital work is needed to transform Britain’s 25 million ageing homes to help people cut their energy bills.

He said: “We MOT our cars for safety and low emissions but we have rickety old boilers. Why don’t we have a MOT for every home in Britain? The tragedy is that people are losing their lives because of badly-fitted boilers.” And went on to add how “staggered” he was at how many people have ancient boilers. “People might think their 10 year old boiler is working fine, but it’s very inefficient. We need to change that mentality. It’s not just about fixing, it’s about improving and maintaining things in a really efficient way.”

Of course, in the energy efficiency world we know that.  We know how inefficient old boilers are, and we know that, despite all of our efforts to date, most EPCs are not regarded as useful, informative documents, but as a bit of government bureaucracy.

Certainly Green Deal and the Energy Company Obligation will help address this (especially when people like Martin Lewis promote the Green Deal) but I think George could have gone a bit further. What about a Home MOT helping to give the economy a little nudge in the right direction?

Last year we saw the publication of the proposed relaxation of planning laws which would, for a 3 year period, allow people to build much larger extensions to their homes without the need for planning consent as a way to boost construction and, consequently, the economy.  I do get the logic, but looking around me I don’t see great swathes of Milton Keynes under scaffolding while a myriad of new extensions are put up.  And I don’t believe that is because the current planning laws are a disincentive.  I think it is because most people don’t want the major investment of an extension.

What I do see, however, are countless numbers of properties that could do with at best a bit of TLC and at worst significant repairs.  And I suspect that many owners and occupiers are simply unaware of the implications of leaving little repairs today (“a stitch in time” etc.) Clarke is quoted as saying “The public are more interested in their bank balance than they are in saving the environment. But tell them they’re going to save money and improve the quality and comfort of their home for years to come, and you might get them to sign on the dotted line.”  And he might have a point.

So, I have a proposal which goes beyond Clarke’s – let’s have mandatory Home MOTs to enable the public to see what repairs and improvements could be undertaken to save them money in the longer term (clean out those gutters; repair slipped tiles on the roof; put in a French drain to deflect the water away; replace that ancient boiler; flush out that heating system; insulate that loft).

A home MOT would, in effect, be a simple schedule of condition and by providing the building owner and occupier with something that could easily be a repair schedule they can easily obtain quotes from small builders to fix those problems and help give the construction industry the kick start it needs.  In my opinion, more people are going to give more SME builders jobs to clean out gutters and other smaller jobs, than they are to build a hefty great extension.

And here’s a really radical idea.  Let’s have mandatory MOTs on all rented properties.  Never mind the EPC – let’s go the whole hog.  Landlords would get a proper repair schedule, prospective tenants would get an idea of the true state of the property and the likely implications to them of living there (Asthmatic?  Avoid the house with the damp walls; Energy bills? Take out a green deal loan to make the property more energy efficient) we’d get a full picture of the state of the properties in the private rented sector, and we could give the construction SME population a little nudge.

And if anyone from Government should be reading this, thinks it’s a great idea but too difficult to implement, then don’t worry.  We’ve already got something up our sleeves you can borrow – the Home Condition Survey – plus an army of surveyors ready willing and able.

Just a thought.