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Make a move on energy savings

ImageThe time to upgrade the energy efficiency of our homes is when we move house. Major changes will be needed to bring about this step change but it can be done before the end of this decade.

Location, location, location. The traditional estate agents’ argument is that nothing else matters to a prospective home purchaser. Perhaps the kitchen too. But not the energy bills. Oh no, never the fuel bills. They are just not important enough.

It has long been official policy to change this prejudice. But can it really be altered sufficiently, in order to begin to cut back on the £20bn we spend each year heating and lighting our homes? I believe it is entirely practical to deliver such a step change before this decade is out.

I accept it will require a combined effort, of a kind never attempted before. It will mean the abandonment of a number of entrenched attitudes. But I am convinced it to be possible, and the end definitely worth it.

Movers are improvers

First off, is it right to make the time when people change home the right moment to concentrate on getting the building’s energy performance upgraded? I am convinced it is. For a start, movers are frequently improvers. You feel most inclined to make changes when you first arrive. Rather less so when you have long been incumbent, and have grown inured to all that is a bit wrong.

So, you are moving in. First things first. How do you establish what needs to be done to make the home more comfortable, reduce the mounting fuel bills, cut the energy wastage?

All the information is now available. Since last autumn, every home purchaser has been provided with details of that building’s Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), providing an energy rating from A to G. Plus details of what could be done to upgrade the home’s energy performance cost-effectively. Shortly all new lessees will get the same information.

But it is clear that it is a minority who have the results seriously brought to their attention by their estate agent, let alone trouble to study it. The problem has been that the Energy Performance Certificate is hidden away within the much-derided Home Information Pack (HIP). Not even the A to G rating result is obvious.

This is a terrible waste. If we can make it obligatory to display the A to G rating obviously on any refrigerator or washing machine we buy, why can’t we ensure that such fundamental information is equally visible, when we make the far biggest purchase of our home?

Energy exemplar or gas guzzler

All estate agents’ advertising and particulars should feature the relevant rating letter in prominent position. No new legislation is required. An Order or Regulation under the 1979 Estate Agents Act would suffice. This way a new occupant would know whether their latest home was an energy exemplar. Or a gas-guzzler.

And, if the latter, what to do about it. In the case of the worst homes, with F or G ratings, from this autumn there will be a bespoke service from the local energy advice agency, suggesting who to approach in order to acquire help.

Even before that, more enterprising estate agents will be in contact with one (or more) of the six big energy companies. Why them? Because each of the energy companies has a statutory duty under the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (CERT) scheme. This requires each company to deliver energy savings in hundreds of thousands of energy inefficient homes each year. One of the most costly parts of meeting the target is simply establishing which homes need improvement.

Duty for local councils

Upgrading gas-guzzling homes is also a statutory duty for local councils. Under the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995, every local authority with housing responsibilities is required to report each year on progress in their area towards reducing domestic fuel waste by 30 per cent within 15 years.

And the Government? What role can it play? The obvious one is providing some direct financial incentive for the householder. Practically every time a home is bought, Stamp Duty is levied. Why not offer to vary the tax raised, by saying that, if the energy-saving improvements recommended under the EPC are implemented within (say) two years, some or all of the Stamp Duty is returned?

This need not be a burden on the Exchequer. An impecunious government might easily balance the books by imposing a surcharge on (say) those who buy F or G rated homes, but after 2 years have spurned all offers of help to improve the energy performance of their homes.

So there you have it. Everyone involves wins. The estate agent, the energy company, the local authority, certainly the government, with a better housing stock and less greenhouse gas emissions.

Most of all, it is the individual householder who gains. Lower fuel bills, more comfortable home (all those awful draughts gone!), a good environmental citizen. Even though it may still be a case of location, location, location as the main purchasing criterion. A truly virtuous circle.

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