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Single or double-glazed?
By Andrew Woodger
If you're selling or renting a house, you have to have an Energy Performance Certificate. They cost around £75 + VAT, but it's claimed it's not simply another way to empty our wallets, because it could help reduce our household bills.
"I think that some people see this as another tiresome thing that the government wants them to do, but it would be great to think that people are looking at it positively to make their own lifestyles more sustainable," said Carolyn Mason, who's carries out energy survey work with her company Energy Savings Inspectors.
"The government needs to reduce our carbon emissions, so I would say as long as they use the data collected in a positive way to increase insulation, then that's all well and good.
Looking up the chimney
"The government had released grants for people over 70 to have free loft and cavity wall insulation, so if they can continue to back up grant schemes and incentives, then obviously that will be of benefit to people."
But for those of us not entitled to grants, we've got a lot of thinking to do about whether we can afford the things to get us an 'A' grade.
In 2007, the government introduced Home Information Packs which people selling properties have to provide. Part of them is the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) which tells potential buyers how energy-efficient the property is.
If you rent a house, you have to have the EPC as well. There's no 'pass' or 'fail', but a house will get graded from A to G and likely energy-use will be transparent. Energy-efficiency recommendations are also given.
So with that in mind, BBC Suffolk went out with Carolyn Mason to a mid-terrace house in Ipswich to see how it measured up. It was built in 1890, has solid 'header-stretcher' brick walls and two bedrooms.
In at the ground floor
The EPC process takes around 15 minutes and the inspectors simply tick things off on a fairly simple form.
Carolyn prepares to survey
It was a black mark straight away for the living room which has been knocked through into the dining room. There's no double-glazing, no energy-efficient light bulbs and the chimney flue hasn't been blocked off meaning any hot air gets sucked up by the cold air.
"We look to see if there's single, secondary or double-glazing, and if they are double- then we're looking to see if they were fitted after 2002. Building standards changed then and the windows were slightly better," said Carolyn.
If you can't stand the heat...
The inspectors don't worry too much about the kitchen (which has been knocked through into what was the coal shed), because they're only interested in 'living' areas. However, the strip light is a good thing because it's more energy-efficient.
Upstairs it's a similar story with the windows and lights, but the house has just had a new combination boiler fitted in the bathroom. The boiler has an external wall flue for the condensation, so it's top-marks for that as well.
In terms of heating, there's a wall thermostat and all the radiators have thermostatic valves allowing them to be turned off or down.
Heat rises and escapes through the roof, so what's going on in the loft is vital. The house has fibreglass insulation laid 100mm up to the level of the joists.
Loft insulation creeping up the eaves
You could go up to 270mm to make the insulation more effective, but you'd lose storage space.
However, in our terrace the insulation is covering up the bottom of the eaves as well, and it needs to be pulled back to allow a through-way of air to prevent condensation building-up.
The terraced house ended up with a D-61 Energy Effieciency Rating, where the scale starts at G (a score of 0) and goes up to a completely energy-efficient house at A (100). The average in the UK is E-43. The Environental Impact (carbon dioxide) Rating is D-56.
"It's not particularly energy-efficient, but then you wouldn't expect a house of this age to be totally energy-efficient," concluded Carolyn.
The lack of cavities in the walls is a problem that can't be fixed, but there are plenty of recommendations that could be acted on.
The easiest thing is to fit energy-efficient lightbulbs which are coming down in price due to government subsidy. The manufacture of old style filament lightbulbs is being phased out completely. This could cut the surveyed house's bill from £58 to £32 a year.
However, not all older light fittings can accommodate a new lightbulb or allow the dimmer to work (it'll allow on or off though). Carolyn says superstores are selling them very cheaply (five for 40p in some cases), and they last around five times as long as an old bulb.
Blocking off the chimney flue in the living room is also relatively cheap - and DIY stores sell 'inflatable chimney pillows/balloons' cost around £20.
The Energy Performance Certificate
Then things start to get a bit pricier - dry-lining the external walls, laying extra loft insulation and double-glazing which, on its own, is going to run to £2-3,000.
The house would only save around £48 a year with double-glazing and £113 by having 50mm of external or internal lining on the walls.
However, Carolyn says the EPC doesn't directly affect the value of a house: "It's simply a grading which gives you and the potential buyer/tenant an idea of the annual running cost of heating and lighting the house.
"This cost ends up on the certificate, so if you carry out any upgrades, it's worth getting another EPC done."
Once completed the certificate lasts for 10 years if you're renting the house, but if you're selling you'll need a new one each time the house is put on sale, or if it's taken off the market after six months without a sale.
Carolyn said it's worth keeping track of what grants are available: "Unfortunately, the government are highly unlikely to pay for your double-glazing, but there are certain funds available for people on incapacity and other benefits.
"There are people who will phone you up. It's cold-calling and you might think 'what's the catch?', but it is legitimate and they will offer free insulation."
last updated: 13/02/2009 at 15:56