Energy Efficiency Improvements for Home Owners and Landlords Beneficial or Onerous?

Energy Efficiency Improvements for Home Owners and Landlords

Beneficial or Onerous?


Whilst most property owners will see the need and agree that their property needs to improve the energy efficiency, many will struggle with the cost and the practicalities that are involved.


Fabric first improvements are the “buzz words” of the moment – these are the cheapest and most popular methods of raising the EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) on a property. This is an approach to retrofitting homes that aims to reduce demand for heat and power as far as possible, through insulation and airtightness combined with adequate ventilation, before improving or decarbonising the building services or installing renewable energy systems. It is a relatively simple concept that focuses on reducing a home’s heat loss, in order to achieve a low carbon, sustainable home that’s affordable to heat.


Space heating makes up about 60% of the energy an average home consumes, so even when using renewables to heat a property, without a fabric first approach this is not creating a low energy home. Fabric first prioritises heat conservation over heat generation, and the theory works on the principle that no matter how renewable your energy may be, it is always best to use as little of it as possible. The aim is to create a home with a “sealed envelope” and this is best achieved through insulation, good windows and airtightness – solar heating is also included but has less relevance in reference to retrofitting an older property.


Many properties, particularly by the coast are neither suitable nor benefit from cavity wall insulation and many older ones have a solid wall with no cavity. In these instances, the property will need to be either clad internally or externally, with the former being the cheaper option. Landlords need to be aware that neither method is a cheap option and both can have a similar host of issues attached to them.


Both measures involve adding a covering to the existing structure. For internal insulation to work effectively, all of the internal wall coverings will need to be removed – skirting, door frames, window seals, reveals, plug sockets, radiators and coving. If these are left in situ and the insulation is taken up to them, the heat loss on the wall will not be consistent, creating cold spots due to different thicknesses of wall where the insulation is missing. The insulation used is from 10mm thick (depending upon the material used) so the rooms will then end up slightly smaller once everything has been put back in. This can cause issues with doors and windows and may require new frames, reveals and sills – another cost and headache. In addition moving forward, anything put up on the wall should be attached and not screwed or nailed, as this could compromise the vapour barrier needed in tandem with the insulation to avoid other cold and damp issues!


The other consideration is floor insulation as a noticeable amount of heat is lost this way. Similar to the insulated roof space, the pipes under the floor will need lagging as this area will be a lot colder than the house itself once the floor has been insulated. It becomes quite apparent that there are a range of additional costs attached to these processes. The property will need fresh decoration and quite likely new carpets will have to be included.


External insulation will have similar issues and can affect the opening of windows and doors, so a good survey and schedule of costs would be recommended before deciding to go down this route. As many European countries already apply this technique, once the United Kingdom`s contractors become more au-fait with the requirements, then hopefully the costings will become cheaper!


Replacing boilers can have the similar problems, as quite often changing the old boiler for an air or heat source pump is theoretically the easy part. Old tanks may need to come out and often new pipework and radiators are required due to different size capacity, not to mention the redecoration required and re-fitting of carpets which will have been pulled back for clear access to the floor. It is quite often being said by landlords that a lot of properties may need £30,000 spending on them just to get to band C, making the work questionable and even justifiable for the landlord, given current Government incentives!


It can quite clearly be seen that this work is disruptive, intrusive and time consuming. The landlord has to factor the tenant/s into this disorder – Whilst the work is being done, the tenant will still expect a “quiet lifestyle”, which is going to be neither practical nor realistic from the installer`s point of view. Does the landlord suspend the rent during the work, offer a discount or even compensation? Or even worse does the landlord have to put the tenant up in alternative accommodation whilst the work is being undertaken?


Having gone to the expense of the installation and energy improvements, the tenants have got to feel it is a usable and affordable system for them to operate efficiently – they have got to want to use it! Rodney Townson from the landlord association iHowz: “Tenants want safe homes which are affordable to heat and do not want technical heating solutions which can end up costing significantly more than existing gas central heating. In order for heat pumps to deliver efficiency of up to 300% they require a well-insulated property which is likely to require some form of mechanical ventilation with heat recovery to ensure sufficient air flow.” The most popular choice at present is a Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR) system but this is a further cost, for the landlord and also will be seen as one by the tenant!


None of these factors seem to have been thought through properly nor the practicalities understood by the relevant bodies who will be pushing this legislation into law. It has to be appreciated and understood that a lot of landlords don`t have the financial savings to do the work and where a landlord does, the tenant has to agree to it. A major consideration, is if the tenant/s don`t allow access for the work to be done, the only other opportunity will be when the property becomes vacant. Getting the work done will then be dependent upon contractor availability and given there is a shortage of sufficiently qualified tradesmen to do the work, this could be another challenge. The other factor has to be how long the landlord can realistically afford to have the property empty and unlet!!


Landlords and homeowners require greater clarity on what the new EPC/MEES standards will require and this in turn needs to be supported by a long-term scheme with adequate resources in place – installers, materials, funding and assessors. The way the government are polarizing the PRS, landlords have to treat renting a property as a business and businesses only work properly and invest if there is certainty – something that is greatly lacking at present! Many landlords having spent thousands of pounds upgrading properties, still don’t even know what’s expected, due to the uncertainty around the new EPC targets.


One landlord stated: “I’ve got to start telling tenants soon, ‘You can’t live here past 2028, the government say you can’t if the property is not a C, and your rent doesn’t pay for a C’.” In an era of inflation, painfully high rents for many, how much higher can rents be pushed and how affordable will they become for the majority who rely on the PRS?


Lord Willie Haughey a businessman who owns a heat pump supplier company in Scotland, told the Telegraph: “The truth of the matter is that heat pumps don’t work as efficiently in Scotland as they do in other countries.” This is due to the harsher climate – interesting given we are being warned of potentially colder wetter winters in England. Even more interestingly he adds that heat pumps are noisy (already well documented) and will only heat water to 54C (129.2F) – that’s lower than the 60C recommended by the Health and Safety Executive to kill the legionella bacteria.


The other problem is that the PRS is made up of older housing stock and many HMOs or leasehold flats have planning restrictions which make it impossible for heat pumps to be fitted. Mr Townson added: “Many rental properties are HMOs or leasehold flats. There may be planning or lease restrictions which prevent or add additional administrative and direct costs, which prevent or make it unaffordable to fit heat pumps for these properties”.


This country has a high proportion of older housing stock, many of which will be neither suitable nor economical (for some just unaffordable) to improve to the proposed standards. Surely it is time for a re-think on what happens to these properties, because it is quite clear with current efficiency options available, many properties will be seeking registration on the Exemption Register – not really the answer that the Government, homeowners or landlords are looking for!