Battle of the Bands: the energy efficiency of private rental properties

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At the end of July, DECC launched consultations on a new strategy for fuel poverty and consultations on the energy efficiency of private rental properties for domestic and non domestic buildings:

The Fuel poverty consultation notes an aim for:

“as many fuel poor homes as is reasonably practicable to achieve a minimum energy efficiency standard of Band ‘C’, by 2030.”

It also discusses interim milestones that as many fuel poor homes as is reasonably practical will be:

1. Band ‘E’ by 2020

2. Band ‘D’ by 2025

Whilst aiming to upgrade the existing building stock is very much the right journey to be on and setting minimum standards of energy efficiency for rental properties is one of the better roads to helping reduce fuel poverty,  the suggested waypoint of a band ‘E’ target for 2020 represents a wrong turn, or cul-de-sac, that may add cost and lengthen the journey.

Band ‘E’ can often be achievable without upgrading the building fabric, which, although seeming like a good idea, as it can be done reasonably inexpensively, may not always be the best choice if a higher standard is then to be reached for later. The problem is, if you’ve already done all the simpler, cheaper things to upgrade to ‘E’, the opportunities to then cheaply improve that to a ‘D’ or ‘C’ rating are pretty much exhausted; so building fabric, or renewables may be all that is left on the table.

Those cheaper, easier measures may then turn out to be barriers or diversions that might need rethinking at the next stages.  If a property upgraded to the 2025 standard would be most efficient and cheaper to run with a correctly sized boiler, a landlord is not going to want to rip out one put in 5 years before as part of the work to get to an ‘E’ rating (and you wouldn’t want an undersized one while waiting for that fabric upgrade).

Whilst upgrading a property thermally, other compatible upgrades may also make more financial sense to be done.

  • If you upgrade the fabric first, boilers can then be correctly sized
  • If you’re upgrading the fabric, then draught proofing around openings can be addressed
  • Thermal bridging at junctions and around openings might be improved
  • Window replacements or secondary glazing can be considered with minimal additional disruption.
  • Air tightness can be considerably improved by the works and ventilation strategy should also be looked at
  • If you’ve got scaffold up anyway, then roof works might be worth looking at and solar installations (Solar hot water or PV)  may be worth considering

Improving the building fabric from the outset, although initially more costly, will generally get you a good way through a band ‘D’ rating anyway, possibly straight to a ‘C’. If the target were only an ‘E’ initially, people will be more inclined to just do the cheaper things to get to the first waypoint and then likely balk at going further.

In order to avoid a wrong turn, my suggestion would be that the suggested interim step for Band ‘E’ should be dropped and Band ‘D’ should be considered as the first target for 2018/2020, with a clear statement of intent that a further target of ‘C’ will be set for 2030, to encourage more to be done from the outset and to allow for good future planning.

Reducing heating demand and achieving adequate ventilation should always be the first step of any energy efficiency improvement strategy.  Buildings need to be analysed to consider the right measures for each circumstance, but any stepped approach to their improvement needs to avoid unintended consequences.

For more advice about upgrading the energy efficiency of an existing property please contact our Technical Services Department who will be able to suggest the best products to meet your requirements.

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About

Jon Ducker is a qualified energy assessor working for Kingspan Insulation Ltd. He has an extensive knowledge of energy efficiency, renewable energy systems and sustainability in buildings with an expert knowledge of the relevant sections of buildings regulations and standards and their interactions with SAP. He provides authoritative advice regarding energy assessments for a wide range of public and private sector clients.

0 comments on “Battle of the Bands: the energy efficiency of private rental properties
  1. Hi Jon

    I agree that insulation should be the first priority before replacing a boiler although adding things like thermostatic radiator valves and a programmer/room thermostat can increase comfort and reduce energy costs.

    What interests me is your opinion on whether using the current EPC rating for existing homes is actually a good basis for reducing energy costs i.e. whether improving the EPC can deliver significant energy saving for existing housing stock (eg a draughty Victorian house). The EPC for existing houses seems to be a tick box exercise which does not adequately pick up things such as draughts and lack of airtightness which can have a big an effect as poor u-values of materials (and are a key aspect of Passivhaus).

    Data from the sustainable homes recent survey (A STUDY OF THE EFFECTS OF FEEDBACK
    ON DOMESTIC ENERGY USE), admittedly done for different purposes, shows little correlation between EPC score and energy use – see http://cdn2.hubspot.net/hub/63188/file-1082558786-pdf/docs/NES_report_final_-_public_version.pdf

    I am not saying we shouldn’t do it. Just asking whether we have the right measure!

    • Hi Jon,
      Thanks for your comment. Jon Ducker is on his hols at the moment, so I will attempt to answer. The problem we have at the moment, as you have identified, is that an EPC is a tool that can be a little rough and ready. In some ways every tool used for comparison will have flaws in order that one property can be compared to another ‘similar’ property using standardised assumptions to fit into a limited number of categories (A to G). These assumptions will, of course, add variance to what actually happens in practice. As for the link between EPC and energy use in practice, although an EPC makes assumptions, you can never really account occupant behaviour! For example a household with 4 occupants may be a young family with teenage kids forever showering (or not), keeping radiators on and wearing T-shirts inside (taking full advantage of the comfort factor) will have a very different energy use from a more prudent family whose culture or ethos is to ‘do their bit’ for the environment.

      I’d be very interested to explore your alternative to the EPC system?

      Peter

      • Hi Peter

        Thanks for the speedy response – one less thing for Jon to do when he is back!.

        I don’t have an alternative to the EPC but I do question whether government investment should be driven by such a crude tool. The cheapness of the current EPC assessment is the issue – including Air Tightness Testing would be a step forward as in new build but may add too much to the cost to be affordable as it requires well trained testers.

        Individual energy usage will clearly vary according to behaviour but I am not convinced that the type of behaviour you describe is generally linked to specific EPC ratings. Over the sample sizes of most of the surveys I have seen different behaviours should even out unless I am missing something.

        Look forward to the result of the consultation when it is published by DECC

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