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Beware of energy efficiency advice from the uninformed

The value of getting correct independent advice before you act. 

A tale of woe from one of our members, who is an accredited Retrofit Assessor, about a people who thought they were getting good advice and are now paying dearly that they didn’t.  

Ever since the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard (M.E.E.S.) legislation was introduced, MEP members have been helping landlords understand what they need to do to their properties to meet the MEES requirements for rental properties. Since properties are measured and compared using EPC software, it made sense to use that same software to create “what if” scenarios, so that advice can be given on which improvements would take a property to the next energy rating band. The minimum is currently E39 and Government plan to increase this a D and then ana C. Landlords need to be sure that the money they invest installing energy efficiency measures will deliver the desired end result. 

It doesn’t take long for an energy assessor to know what works and what doesn’t in various types of property because we work on them every day but others you might expect to be similarly knowledgeable, sadly are often not.

The use of electricity as a heating fuel is becoming more common, primarily because so much is now being generated from renewable sources and if used appropriately it can be more cost effective than other fuels. One such option is the use of storage heaters.           

Storage heaters are designed to be connected to a dual-rate electricity supply. This is because the heaters use and store off-peak electricity drawn during the night and then discharge the stored heat energy during the day. The latest High Heat Retention (HHR) variants are both programmable and thermostatically controlled making them an extremely good alternative to other off grid heating options. 

Over the years we have specified such heaters in quite a few  properties and on every occasion, make it clear that only those heaters on an attached list can be entered on to the EPC software. On a few occasions when asked to return to a property to finalise the EPC, we have found that different electric heaters have been installed and as a result the property fails to meet the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard. 

When asked why this had happened, the landlord invariably states that his electrician had found some cheaper and “more efficient” alternatives. In some cases, the electrician had installed simple electric panel heaters which may be a good choice for a modern flat but are most certainly the worst option for a solid walled property without insulation. In other cases, an alternative storage heater had been installed but one which was not listed on the EPC database and consequently not able to be input.

In a couple of other cases, we have come across situations where storage heaters had been installed but the units had not been set up correctly to charge during the off-peak delivery hours so that the householder was using on peak electricity and storing it for later use! 

Perhaps the most shocking situation happened only a few weeks ago. A lady was selling a traditional terraced house and needed an EPC. It had been renovated very well and HHR storage heaters had been installed. However, when the meter was inspected, it was discovered that it was a single rate version! The result should have been E46 but with a single rate meter the result was actually G17.

Having fitted the storage heaters and connected them to a single rate meter means that they will be prohibitively expensive to use and fail to meet the minimum MEES standard for rented properties of E39. Whilst this lady did not intend rent the property out, it is increasingly common for mortgage lenders to refuse to lend on properties below E39.

Consequently, the vendor is currently organising the provision of a dual rate supply so that the property will work as it was originally intended to do.

The moral of this story is that the work which goes into producing EPCs is still largely misunderstood by many people including those who supply and fit heating systems and component parts. Our advice to consumers who want to learn more about saving money on energy is to speak to the assessor who produced their EPC or indeed any assessor willing to talk them through the main issues embedded in the EPC itself. 

As for educating those who specify, sell and fit energy equipment, it’s going to be down to education, communication and time…    

Author: FromTheSticks

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