The Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Chris Huhne, has just announced action to deal with the worst performing rental properties: homes with energy ratings of F and G. Although Friends of the Earth had called for a legal minimum level of energy efficiency for private rented properties to be introduced by 2016, DECC has made a small concession by setting the date at 2018. By this date, it will be an offence to re-let, or market for rent, properties which do not meet this standard. Setting the date at 2018 allows landlords time to meet the new standard before it is enforced, either by improving the property, or removing it from their rental stock.
I was reminded about Friends of the Earth’s campaign to improve the energy efficiency of private rented homes recently, when I surveyed a nicely presented semi being offered for rent in a pleasant street in a village near Milton Keynes. The house is in the most northerly village in Buckinghamshire, right on the boundary between Bucks, Northants and Bedfordshire, and there’s a wide range of homes in the village – from original cottage properties right through to large new homes, only just being completed. Built in the early 1970s, the home I surveyed is somewhere in the middle. By this, I don’t just mean that it’s half way up the hill, and that its age is somewhere in the middle range of the properties in the street, but it’s also true about its energy efficiency.
At an EPC rating of D, it’s bang in the middle of the range (from A, the best, to G, the worst). Most of the older properties here will have ratings of F or G, and some of the newer ones could score as high as B. It’s very unlikely that any of them will rate an A, since that would indicate a home that costs nothing to heat and light, which is really pretty rare. So, this home is going to cost the tenants a lot less to heat than most properties in the village.
It’s not just about fuel bills, though. Homes with ratings of F & G are linked to several health problems, including respiratory and cardiovascular conditions, and rheumatoid arthritis; it’s even been suggested that living in a cold home can worsen mental health. It’s good to know that at a rating of D, this is not one of the homes that have been accused of costing the Health Service £145M a year, dealing with health problems caused by homes with ratings of F and G. This statistic is probably one reason why DECC was persuaded to take action to deal with the worst performing rental properties.
For a house in this age band (generally characterised by large picture windows and empty cavity walls) a score of D is pretty good. It achieved this rating via a combination of new double glazing to the picture windows, cavity fill, 90% low energy lighting and 250mm of loft insulation. The boiler isn’t the best available, but it’s not bad, and it does have reasonable controls – a 7 day programmer & room thermostat, well located in the open plan living room, and a thermostat on the foam insulated hot water cylinder. I even noticed that it had a smart meter, a boiler interlock, and primary pipework insulation, although RdSAP doesn’t recognise these features (yet?!).
Let’s face it: even the most caring landlord isn’t going to replace a boiler when it’s still working, so it seems that the owner has done a reasonable job of improving this rental property. For an investment of probably less than £4000, the home has been lifted from its 1970s energy performance to a respectable D rating. The Energy Saving Trust has found that over 60% of the private rented homes banded F or G could be brought to an E standard for less than £5,000, and don’t forget, this investment is tax deductible, via the Landlords Energy Saving Allowance.
The home is now let, last winter’s freezing weather has gone, and a new family are enjoying the garden in the lovely spring sunshine. Insulation, fuel bills and energy ratings don’t register much with the public in the summer, but when the winter returns, they’ll feel the benefit of that D rating. I’m pleased that action will soon be taken on those private rental properties that don’t even rate an E.
The author, Linn Rafferty , an energy assessor since 1996, has been inspecting homes for their energy efficiency for nearly 15 years, and managed the industry team that developed RdSAP. She now runs JTec Energy and Automation, http://jtecservices.co.uk/default.aspx, and as well as providing consultancy, technical authoring services, and lots of blogs, still works locally as a DEA. She has recently contributed to pilot training courses for Home Energy Advisers and is currently supporting DECC’s work on setting the methodology that will be used by Green Deal Assessors. Follow her on Twitter @LinniR .
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