66% of UK homes have low energy efficiency ratings
People in the UK are spending much more on heating their homes than is necessary because they are not taking simple steps to meet minimum energy efficiency standards that could reduce their bills according to new data. Read on for Selectra’s analysis.
Many UK homes below minimum energy efficiency rating standards
Over 12 million homes do not meet the criteria for a rating of C under the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) system according to research by the BBC’s shared data unit.
That’s 66% of UK households that cannot get even the bronze medal of energy efficiency, while only 1% of new homes in 2018 were given the top EPC certification of ‘A’.
A separate study of 80,000 homes by German technology company Tado has found that heat escapes from UK homes a lot faster than those in nine neighbouring countries in Western Europe.
According to Tado’s research, when it’s 0°C outside, it takes just five hours for a UK home with an inside temperature of 20°C to lose an average of 3°C.
This is twice as fast as heat-loss from Italian homes and three times as fast as German dwellings.
As well as leaving householders with higher energy bills, the inefficiency of UK homes contributes significantly to the country’s share of CO2 emissions and worsens global warming.
Figures show that UK households produced 65.9m tonnes of CO2 in 2018, accounting for 15% of national emissions.
Experts are warning a massive government investment campaign is needed to retrofit homes like these and bring them up to par both in order to reduce fuel poverty and also to help meet the government’s pledge to create a net-zero carbon emissions economy by 2050.
Tado co-founder Christian Deilmann said the UK is “lagging behind Europe when it comes to energy-efficient homes.”
“The good news is that there are lots of great solutions available and a huge opportunity for energy savings to be made,” he said.
The government admits it needs to go "much further and faster" to improve the minimum energy efficiency standards of UK homes.
Minimum energy efficiency standards and fuel poverty
An estimated 4 million UK households are classed as fuel poor, which means they are unable to afford to pay for the energy needed to maintain a warm and dry home.
More than 500,000 fuel-poor English homes lack insulation in their cavity walls, about one million have highly-inefficient uninsulated solid walls, and over two million have little or no loft insulation.
Such poorly-heated homes can have a serious impact on people’s health.
Low temperatures are especially dangerous for the very young, the elderly, and people with an already weak immune system.
Diseases such as colds, flu and pneumonia are of course much more prevalent in winter and for the elderly, living in a cold home long-term can cause blood thickening along with a rise in blood pressure. This raises the risk of strokes, heart attacks and hypothermia.
Cold killed around 50,100 people in England and Wales over winter 2017-2018. The majority of avoidable deaths happened to people aged 75 and over. This was the highest number of excess winter deaths on record for 40 years.
The problem is particularly pronounced in the countryside. The localities with the highest average domestic CO2 emissions in England and Wales were all rural areas.
In Scotland, the same pattern was represented by the highlands and islands.
Rural homes are often not connected to the gas grid, meaning they rely on fuels like liquid petroleum gas (LPG) or solid fuels such as coal or wood, which will soon be subject to strict regulation or outright ban.
These dwellings also tend to be antiquated and old, draughty homes with single-glazed windows and lack of insulation are still common across the country, both in the countryside and in urban areas.
Around 38% of UK homes were built before 1946, meaning we have some of the oldest housing stock in Europe.
How is energy efficiency calculated and rated?
Energy Performance Certificates have been legally required when properties are constructed, sold or rented since 2008.
They give verified information on the typical energy costs of a property. EPCs should also offer advice about boosting energy efficiency and reducing energy usage.
The scale ranges from the top grade of ‘A’ to the lowest score of G. A grade of ‘C’ is considered slightly above average. Assessments are carried out by an energy assessor who calculates the home’s energy efficiency.
The assessor will examine the house or flat and take photos as a record of their investigation.
The assessment starts with a look at whether the property is a flat, terraced house or detached house. Assessors will go into every room and take note of the size of living space, the number of rooms and their layout as well as inspecting your light fittings.
The inspection will take into account whether or not you have insulation installed as well as your heating system, its efficiency and its controls.
The assessor should also examine the windows and record whether they are single, double or triple-glazed and well-fitted.
All the data they collect will be entered into a government-approved app which will generate the EPC rating, which will be valid for 10 years.
Current UK residential energy efficiency requirements
Landlords renting out domestic properties have until April 1st 2020 to improve the minimum energy performance of their flats and houses to at least a EPC rating of ‘E’.
The deadline applies both to new lets and renewals from existing tenants.
Renting properties without an EPC minimum energy efficiency rating of ‘E’ will be illegal, unless there is an exemption such as the accommodation being a listed property.
A fine of up to £4,000 could be imposed on those who flout the law.
The government has placed a £3,500 cap on the amount it expects landlords to pay out of their own pocket for the improvements.
It advises property owners who believe they need to spend more than this amount to make all the improvements possible within the cap limit and then apply for an exemption.
Funding help is also available from energy companies in the form of Energy Company Obligations (ECOs), as well as through local authority grants.
Recommended improvements include installing insulation in internal or external walls, under floors and around hot water cylinders along with draught-proofing.
Fitting high heat retention storage heaters, dual immersion cylinders, solar water heating, low energy lighting and replacing single-glazed windows may also be necessary to meet minimum energy efficiency standards.
For new builds the construction company must hire an accredited construction energy assessor to produce an EPC.
The builder must then provide the property owner with the EPC and a recommendation report when construction has been completed.
UK government inaction in the face of energy efficiency needs
Efforts by successive UK governments to tackle the nation’s energy efficiency failures has been very much a case of one step forward, two steps back.
While there are some schemes currently available for those in fuel poverty or vulnerable situations such as the Warm Home Discount, the ECO and the Cold Weather Payment, these are rather limited and offer minimal support.
Overall, the government has pursued a piece-meal approach and other schemes have been unceremoniously abandoned.
Labour introduced the Warm Front Scheme in 2000 to provide assistance to vulnerable people in or at risk of fuel poverty with making energy efficiency upgrades to their homes.
That policy helped reduce the energy bills of 2.4 million households by providing energy advice and making a grant of up to £3,500 available for improvements like low-energy equipment, insulation, heating systems and draft proofing.
In 2011, the scheme’s £345m budget was drastically cut by two-thirds to £110m by the Liberal-Democrat and Conservative coalition. The hobbled programme was put out of its misery completely in 2013.
In 2012, the coalition brought in its Green Deal Scheme. This policy allowed energy efficient improvements to be paid for by savings on energy bills.
The programme suffered a less than warm welcome, with critics calling it too complicated and poorly implemented. It lasted a mere three years before it was also consigned to the dustbin.
The government has previously promised to bring all households in fuel poverty, along with as many rented homes as possible, up to a ‘C’ rating by 2030. A target to improve as many other homes as affordable by 2035 was also set.
Campaigners for energy efficiency and for people in fuel poverty believe that promise is in danger of falling by the wayside due to the lack of government support.
Last year, a report from the Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (DBEIS) showed the average number of energy efficiency upgrades carried out per month had plummeted to 10,000 in May 2019 compared to an average of 65,000 a month in 2014.
The fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA) has calculated that without a rapid acceleration of home retrofitting, it will take the UK 56 years to meet all its targets for the insulation of homes.
Peter Smith, a director at NEA, highlighted the dual benefits of making homes more energy efficient for tackling both fuel poverty and the climate emergency.
“Improvements in home insulation and more efficient heating systems are recognised as the cheapest way to cut carbon emissions to reach net zero and end fuel poverty, but since 2012 investment in domestic efficiency has declined steeply,” Mr Smith said.
While the DBEIS has pledged £6bn for energy efficiency upgrades and investigating ways to cut the cost of retrofitting properties in half, it has yet to make a major policy announcement about how this money will be spent.
However, you don’t need to wait for the government to make its mind up. Check out our guide on making your home more energy efficient here.
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