The impact of energy performance certificates

What is your experience with EPCs? Ten years after their introduction DECs and EPCs provide a fascinating snapshot of the state of the UK’s building stock even if compliance is still far from perfect. Andrew Warren, chairman of the British Energy Efficiency Federation, explains in an article in the April 2019 issue of Energy in Buildings & Industry


Are EPCs and DECs making any difference?

Lesson One. If you want to manage energy usage, you must be able to measure it.

For years, everybody knew that the British building stock was “old, poorly built and draughty.” Still is, according to The Economist magazine just last month. But at least for the past decade, we have been able to measure just how bad the stock is.

Since 2008, when the system- mandated under the Energy Performance of Buildings directive – was fully introduced, over 19.3 million English and Welsh buildings have had their Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) ratings formally lodged on the official register, held by the private contractor Landmark Information Group. Of these, a staggering 96% are domestic residencies.

An EPC indicates the relative energy efficiency of any building. Assessments are banded from A to G, where A (or A+ for non-residential properties) is the most efficient in terms of likely costs and carbon emissions. Officially an EPC is required whenever a building is newly constructed or sold- a requirement mostly now obeyed. But also whenever a property is let. Which isn’t what always happens.

The purpose of any EPC is to show prospective occupiers the relative theoretical energy efficiency of the property. Not necessarily currently: EPCs still only have to be reassessed every ten years.

So the first generation of EPCs are now past their sell-by dates. That is certainly one of the reasons why so many more EPCs are currently being issued. For instance, there was a 50% increase in registrations between Q4 of 2017 and Q4 2018.

Of the 1.47m EPCs issued over the last 12 months, many are renewals, not necessarily first -timers. Sadly, nobody seems yet to have tabulated what proportion of these renewed ratings have improved over the past decade.

No fewer than 246,000 new EPCs were registered last year for homes and conversions- which surprisingly seems to imply well over 100% compliance.  Of these 84% achieved an A or B rating – as full compliance with Parts F and L of the Building Regulations suggests they normally should. Of these, just 1% merited an A rating. Curiously over 5% of new buildings were rated as E, F or Gs. Which suggests that there are still homes being built which it would now be illegal to rent out!

Prospective tenants of existing homes do have higher fuel bills to contend with. Two-thirds of EPC ratings acquired in 2018 are at D or below; in contrast just 2% achieved an A or B ratings. And there remains the consistent concern that great numbers of tenancies are still being granted for homes for which EPCs have never been assessed. Or possibly have been, but are too shaming for any landlord to provide for tenants.

Interestingly, the average existing home being sold or rented out is just 83 sq metres in size. Whereas the average for new homes is slightly larger, at 91 square metres. Flats have significantly higher energy consumption per sq metre than houses.

Last year, just 91,000 EPCs were lodged for non-domestic properties. On the face of it, this implies a surprisingly low new build rate, or even churn in occupancy. Although that in itself was a 21% increase on 2017 numbers.  No less than 54% were D rated or below; just 3% are A rated. Apparently for that exclusive A+ rating,” the numbers are too small to report.”

Also held by Landmark are the details of Display Energy Certificates (DECs). These are for properties occupied by a public authority and frequently visited by the public, to be displayed “in a prominent position.”

There are two crucial difference between these and the private sector EPCs. For a start, DECs are based on actual, as opposed to theoretical, energy consumption figures. And buildings over 1.000 sq metres have to be evaluated annually.

Public buildings below that size have the same up-to-10 year old arrangement for DECs as permitted for EPCs. As the Government has shamefully admitted, there has been no attempt ever to establish just how many publicly-occupied buildings fall into this category, nor how many thousands (million?) of sq metres they occupy.

Nonetheless the published DECs figures tell an interesting story in themselves. Those still operating at standards of D or below are almost two-thirds of the total (62%), far worse than EPCs. And just 11% are at A or B level, compared with 15% of buildings measured under EPCs. There has long been a strong belief that it is the measurements of actual, rather than theoretical, consumption that is far more informative for professionals.

It is also significant that just 34,800 DECs were lodged in total last year. This is in contrast with the figure of the 68,000 that the Government initially projected would be required to produce DECs. This suggests that many parts of the public sector are failing entirely to produce these certificates, certainly annually, or in some cases, ever at all.

The ways in which energy certificates are calculated will always provide only a broad brush picture. But they remain the only way in which our building stock’s relative energy performance can be measured.  Compliance is far from perfect. But then, transparently nor is the energy efficiency they seek to measure.

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