Energy Performance Certificates

Also known as EPCs.



Energy Performance Certificates are rising higher up the political agenda with consultations from Westminster and Scottish Governments discussing the future of the certificate system.

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy has a current call for evidence on the subject of EPCs, closing on Friday, 19th October.

EPCs were introduced in 2008 and the requirement was that they were to be provided at point of sale or rental. The certificates are aimed to help buyers and renters take energy performance into account when choosing a home. They are also there to provide recommendations on improvements that could be made to the property.

Since 2008, the use of certificates have been broadened steadily, as lots of energy efficiency policies & programmes required information about the energy performance of the home.

Now, in England, we have the 1st regulation that uses EPC standards: since April landlords have to meet a minimum EPC standard for their rented properties, in some circumstances. Scotland has said it will follow suit.

In both England & Scotland, there are long-term targets being established to bring homes to an EPC standard: in last year's Clean Growth Strategy, the Government indicated it would set a C standard for England to be met where practicable by 2035. Scotland is discussing meeting the same standard by 2040. Brian Horne, Energy Saving Trust's Knowledge Manager, gives his view on the current value & future of EPCs.

EPCs would be a more effective tool if the element of certifying a building's energy-efficiency was separated from the provision of related advice. While it is a good idea to link the EPC measurement to advice about potential energy-efficiency improvements, EPCs themselves are not currently capable of delivering the tailored information that people actually want & need. Instead, I'd propose a new way of providing advice linked to the EPC - through a powerful, online tool.

The home assessment methodology (SAP) that allows for the creation of EPCs is a complex & high-quality heat-loss calculator. Not everybody is happy with this as a measure of energy-efficiency. There are problems associated with it, particularly in the areas of heating preferences, assumed occupancy and the modelled performance of renewables. But when it comes to assessing a building's thermal performance - it's very effective. The problems start when this simple measure moves beyond creating a straightforward label to providing advice. 

Separating out the advice and the labelling elements of the EPC would help it work more effectively. As the requirement for an EPC is already set out in law, I'd argue that it should be retained broadly in its current form. As a static certificate provided at the time you buy, sell or rent a property, it's an effective way of quickly enabling home buyers or renters to compare the overall energy performance of different homes. The label can & should be used to set a minimum standards: in England & Wales landlords are already restricted from renting out homes that rate below and "E" on the certificate.

The EPC document currently also provides advice. This advice is often too basic and ineffective. Instead, advice based on the EPC about potential home improvements can and should primarily be provided online - with possibly a headline or two available on the EPC, plus a link to further information.

In order to be effective, and motivate people to take action, advice needs to be specific to the individual property, its residents and their lifestyle. It's nor as simple as saying, 'insulate your loft if you're losing heat through your roof'. The number of people living in the home, their lifestyles, attitudes to energy-efficiency and available budget will all have a huge effect on the information people will act on.

An EPC-related advice tool could provide specific advice, including updated advice on solar, heat-pumps and other renewable sources, which isn't available with the current EPCs based on:

  • The fabric & construction of your building
  • Who is living in it
  • How you behave (e.g. do you all take long baths every day)
  • What you want to achieve
  • Your constraints (budget, time, & so on).

The government has recently launched an online took at www.eachhomecountsadvice.gov.uk. That took does draw on the EPC & provides some good basic information, but it's not yet sophisticated enough to provide all guidance householders need to make informed decisions, particularly about more complex, renewable energy measures.

Power of Tailored Advice

Creating a fully effective and relevant EPC-based advice tool will require some complex questioning to establish people's lifestyles and requirements, plus development work to generate recommendations based on this and on the building's specific profile, rather than just on simplistic payback calculations. Once developed, the EPC digital tool will provide advice that truly serves the households needs. This specific advice is far more likely to be acted upon and thereby generate the requisite energy-efficiency & carbon savings.

Separate Advice from EPC Labelling

Any online advice-generator would need to comply with data protection regulation, & there would be some technical development required. Plus, it is not clear who should pay for its design, maintenance & upkeep. I'd argue that the government or at least one of their subcontractors should provide this advice, to ensure that it comes from a central, trusted source - rather than allowing for the creation of competing services, potentially offering conflicting information. 

Online advice could be supplemented by advisers on the end of a phone line or in advice centres to support those people who are more comfortable receiving advice that way, & by specialist advisers giving more detailed & technical tailored advice where necessary. Eventually you could link the information to other developments within the property, creating an online log book of energy-efficiency measures.

The EPC would then become a simple labelling document, capturing the energy-efficiency of a property at a set moment in time that could only be produced by a registered assessor. The format of the current assessment would not need to change but it would be supplemented by a superior & more sophisticated provision of advice.

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