The process of moving house has enlightened me about the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC): a measurement of the energy efficiency of a building, and a legal requirement for all properties being sold or rented (yet another advantage of our EU membership, apparently).
The EPC gives a grade, from A to G, on how efficient the building is, how much it costs to heat and light, and what its carbon dioxide emissions are likely to be. It also gives suggestions on how the energy efficiency could be improved.
Our current home has an EPC grade of D (about average for the UK), uses about 36,000 kWh of energy for heating each year, and produces about 9.1 tonnes of CO2. The house we are buying is somewhat worse, being in band E. It uses about 23,000 kWh (being a smaller property), but produces about 11 tonnes of CO2.
However, for an investment of around £20,000 we could improve that to band C, cut our CO2 emissions by a third, live more comfortably in a warmer home, and cut our energy costs substantially.
We can afford to do that.
Not so those on low incomes or state benefits, who suffer a triple whammy. People living in either private rented or public housing are more likely to be living in energy-inefficient properties; they are more likely to experience energy vulnerability and be unable to pay their electricity or heating bills; and they have no control over improving the energy efficiency of their homes, while the private landlords have no incentive to fork out the capital to do so, and the austerity-driven local councils are unlikely to prioritise this over other more pressing demands.
Frustratingly, though, this isn’t just about feeling good about doing our bit to help tackle climate change, nor even about feeling a bit more warm and comfortable during the winter months. Living with energy vulnerability has a direct impact on our health. Last week I attended a seminar exploring the health costs of energy inefficient housing in the UK and France. The authors pointed out that people living in homes in bands F and G have an overall higher mortality, as well as substantial risks of ill-health, not to mention the impact on lost days at work, and for children, poorer educational outcomes.
Conversely, a relatively small investment now in improving the energy efficiency of our public and private rented housing could have huge impacts on the NHS budget, not to mention the very real impact on the lives of those who can’t afford to stay warm.
According to the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, 2.35 million households in England are living in fuel poverty. Surely it doesn’t need to be that way?