Thursday, August 02, 2007

Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) proved useless

I have argued that Energy Performance Certificates will not be quite the powerful tool for the good that Yvette Cooper et al are hoping for. Now Jeff Howell, who writes for the Daily Telegraph, has gone one better and shown just how useless they are by having two surveys carried out on his refurbished house in Suffolk, and analysing the results. The Sunday telegraph reported:

When the introduction of compulsory energy assessments for homes was announced, ministers insisted that they would be an essential tool in the fight against global warming.

Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs), however, are so limited in their scope that they are incapable of delivering accurate results, a Sunday Telegraph investigation has found.

EPCs are a key element of the controversial Home Information Pack scheme.

Hips become compulsory on Wednesday (July 25) for anyone selling or renting out a property with four or more bedrooms.

This newspaper booked two officially accredited assessors to evaluate the same Suffolk property last week. Each charged £100 plus VAT for a 35-minute inspection.

Not only were their estimates of energy use in the house markedly different, potentially affecting sale or rental value, but both inspectors overlooked crucial and clearly-defined energy-saving additions which have been made.

The three-bedroom cottage dates from 1850. Its owner, Jeff Howell, a columnist for this newspaper and a chartered surveyor, has carried out a £30,000 refurbishment over the last five years to bring it into line with 21st-century energy standards, including underfloor heating, hemp plastering, as well as roof and loft insulation.

Neither of the inspections registered that there was wall and floor insulation, and both failed to note insulation between the rafters.

As a result, the property's energy-efficiency rating and environmental-impact rating was graded either F or G - the two lowest on the scale.

To Mr Howell's dismay, both reports also accused him of using 75 per cent more energy than he estimates to be the case. "These guys seem to be little more than box-tickers," said Mr Howell, having studied their reports. "And unfortunately they haven't even managed to tick the right boxes."

EPCs are intended to give prospective purchasers and tenants an idea of a property's energy consumption, together with a list of measures that can be taken to cut fuel bills and carbon emissions.

This part of the Hips scheme has been introduced under the European energy performance of buildings directive.

Despite their troubled history, Yvette Cooper, the housing minister, has remained a staunch supporter of the packs. In May, it was announced that their introduction would be delayed by two months and phased in gradually after there were found to be too few energy advisers. Last week, the Government admitted £19.5 million has been spent on the scheme so far, although MPs have yet to vote on it.

When told about the true status of Mr Howell's property, Steve Younger, one of the assessors, said: "The EPC has merits in some areas, but only when used in conjunction with Home Information Packs. As a stand alone item, I cannot see why they would encourage anyone to buy a house or not buy a house.

"If you were going to rent a property, I think you'd look at two certificates and ask which was the best house. But our assessment is supposed to be a purely visual one. We are not obliged to be thorough."

The other inspector, John Anscomb, from Ipswich, said: "If the owner of the property had been able to show me what sort of modifications had been made to the property, I could have included that information in my report. I guess any system could be more robust." Grant Shapps, the shadow housing minister, said: "This is the latest example of the nonsense that lies behind Hips."

The Department for Communities and Local Government said: "EPCs are a comprehensive assessment of the energy efficiency of a home, with standards set by industry experts and endorsed by environmental groups.

"The quality of assessments will be fully monitored by each accredited scheme to ensure standards are met. Customers unhappy with an assessment will be able to challenge the result."

For the Sunday Telegraph original visit: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/07/29/nhips129.xml

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