Tailor energy efficiency advice to individual homes

by , Higher Education Online Editor Energy & Home 19 August 2011
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I’d welcome a visit from a friendly (and free) home energy assessor if I got some sound advice on making it more energy efficient. But do these schemes manage to deliver practical, tailored help for everybody?

Different coloured houses

Free advice on cutting your energy bills, particularly as price hikes begin to bite, certainly sounds appealing.

London Re:New, the latest in a line of such schemes, promises a ‘whole house approach that aims to offer something for every resident’ in participating areas.

It includes free installation of simple improvements such as radiator panels, water-saving showerheads, draught excluders and hot water tank jackets, plus advice on which bigger energy efficiency tasks would be suitable to undertake (and whether you can get them at a subsidised rate, or for free).

Energy-saving? Not for my home!

If the scheme opens in my area, I’d be tempted to give it a go – but I am a little put off from my experience of previous ‘recommendations’ I’ve received about my home.

When I moved into my flat (more than three years ago), I was disappointed with how few of the points put forward in the property’s Energy Performance Certificate or an energy efficiency report from my council were actually actionable for my circumstances.

Loft insulation? I live in a first floor flat in a converted house. Cavity wall insulation? The house is Edwardian, so doesn’t have cavity walls. Solid wall insulation? I live in a conservation area (meaning the external variety would probably be out). Energy efficient boiler? I’ve already got one. Energy-saving light bulbs? We have to switch to those anyway.

Green Deal coming soon…

The government’s flagship Green Deal, meanwhile, is also on the horizon. Due to launch in late 2012, it’s a new incentive scheme meaning you won’t have to pay upfront for the cost of installing energy-saving measures in your home.

I was interested to read that the National Trust, Grand Designs’ Kevin McCloud and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings have written to Energy Secretary Chris Huhne asking for specific consideration to be given to properties built before 1919.

They argue, for example, that ‘sealing up interiors and installing insulation can stop an old property from being able to breathe’, and want period property experts to be more closely involved in plans for the scheme.

Individual, impartial info

The success of the Green Deal will rely on professionals visiting our homes and making recommendations that are as tailored as possible. Here at Which?, we’re pleased to hear the proposed legislation being drawn up will include that advice ‘must be impartial’, too – it’s something we’ve been lobbying for.

I’m no housing stock expert but it seems clear that efficiency advice has to be personal and practical for where you live. Have you installed energy-saving measures in your home following an energy efficiency report or home audit from an energy assessor? Or did you come away disappointed?

36 comments

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frugal ways

Impartial advice/referrals – this is essential
Only have to look at the closed shop of the warmfront scheme, which has pushed prices up to see that surveys and work done by the same company/organisation, does nothing but increase industry prices for everyone.
So bad did it get that the previous government were forced to increase the maximum grant allowance over £3000, as the previous amount left people out of pocket making up perceived shortfalls. It remains the case that those on full allowance would normally have enough grant to cover new radiators, a new boiler, full loft insulation and a sizeable chunk towards cavity wall insulation, have been finding that after new boiler/radiators are fitted, not enough of the grant remains to insulate their loft.

Have a local tradesman option – I find it bizarre that with warmfront, local businesses were almost always excluded from doing any of the work.
This stops competition and pushes up prices, it also increased carbon emissions as the company doing the work comes from miles away.
It is not that difficult to get a couple of local businesses to produce a quote for some or all of the work recommended.

Energy saving?
I don’t think there are many people out there in the real world who do not want to save energy, but government, energy companies and part industry/part tax payer funded bodies do not seem to realise that no matter what people do to save energy, it ends up costing them money and rarely saves enough money to cover the costs long term.
- Using less energy saves money – not according to British gas it doesn’t, they have raised their prices this summer, in part, due to “lower consumption”
- A rated boilers “can” save you money on your energy bills – but even if maximum could be savings, the boiler will never pay for itself over the life time of the boiler (energy saving trust’s own figures: maximum year savings £235, boiler life average 12 years, fitted boiler price average £2500 – add on servicing/repair insurance and it would take 16 years to break even!)
- Double glazing – costing thousands of pounds, most with a ten year guarantee, savings of less than £200 per year, simply is not cost effective
- Energy saving light bulbs – They used to tell us they would last around 10 years, then it dropped down to around 8 years, I’ve got all energy saving bulbs in our house, the longest any have lasted so far, 3 years. Who keeps a box and receipt for 3 years? Have you seen the price of them!

Sorry for the rant, but any government scheme to save energy, must be cost effective for the public, barring insulation I have yet to find that any energy saving measure actually rewards my family financially for doing so. If an energy saving measure actually saved money for the home, then the scheme wouldn’t need any advertising and would succeed.

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Simon T

I am doing my best to reduce my energy consumption. I have completed a few online energy surveys but find them unsatisfactory.
1. They seem to all assume that the person surveyed is an idiot and has not already done the obvious improvements.
2. They do not recognise that there are different levels of double glazing. I have thin double glazing – it was installed when the house was built. It could be improved with more modern double glazing but that would require replacement of the window frames. Should I install transparent plastic over the insides instead?
3. I can’t tell if I have cavity wall insulation without drilling into the walls. I must assume but who can confirm it?
4. I have photovoltaic panels but should I have solar hot water too or would it be a waste as I live alone?
No survey seems to address these fine points.

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Chris

Simon T,
I’m an energy assessor. Perhaps I can answer some of your questions.
The size of the internal gap in your double glazing is not really a critical factor. Wider gaps are not very much more heat insulating, but they do inprove sound insulation. The major factor with double glazing is if it’s pre or post 2002. After 2002 double glazed units were coated and more thermally efficient.

If you walls have been retrospectively cavity filled you’ll see drill holes filled with mortar (in the mortar between the bricks), especially visible a couple of bricks down under windows. If you have a more recently built house (last ten years or so) it may well have been cavity insulated at build. Before that It depends on the building regulations of the day, which refered to an insulation value rather than if this was achieved by cavity filling. Also you often find you can see into the cavity through a meterbox (especially electric meterboxes) and often you can see into the cavity from the loft. Failing all that then yes it’s the drill.

As for solar hot water and/or solar PV. Well they do work.
However I’d suggest you do your sums very carefully. My research suggests payback on solar hot water is a very very long time. Payback is better for Solar PV but you are essentially locked into a 25 year deal. Might suit you might not.

And finally every survey I do (to produce an Energy Performance Certificate) exactly addresses these “finer points”.

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Dave D

Simon / Chris – payback on Solar Hot Water depends very much who you get the system from. I have recommended my system supplier and installer (NOT the same – it was supplied by a Suffolk company and installed, with their recommendation, by my own local plumber) on Which? local. My solar hot water system included a new 180 gallon hot water cylinder – twin coil, factory lagged and with 10 year warranty – a 30 tube collector, all parts and fluids and the pump and controller. It cost less than £3,000 including the plumber’s bill for installation and I don’t need the boiler on at all between about mid-April and Late September (and I DO NOT have an immersion heater either). Even last January, when the outside temp was not above freezing for the entire month, I was still getting a cylinder full of water at 40 degrees C each day from the bright sun, so the boiler had to do far less work. The hot water cylinder supplies my pumped shower, my hot fill dishwasher, my hot fill washing machine and of course all hot taps. I live alone too. In the 3 years since it went in I reckon I’ve saved an actual sum of around £450 on gas. With ever increasing gas prices I reckon it’ll have paid for itself in around 12 to 15 years.
Contrast this to the other quotes I had from supplier-installers (all big name ones) which were all in the region of £12k and did not all include a new cylinder either, and I reckon the key to solar water paying for itself isa to shop around very very carefully (It took me over a year to find and agree to the purchase and I must have had at least 12 quotes from 12 different companies).

Solar PV is something I would like, but I don’t now have enough roof space left to have a system that would generate any more than 2Kw peak, and 3 local suppliers / installers have said that in their opinion that is not a big enough system to be worth the initial outlay (don’t know if you;d agree Chris?), so I’m leaving that one, at least for now.

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John

I don’t need a so called expert to tell me what needs doing to my house – in an ideal world.

I already know that I have a very thick blanket of loft insulation – so that is ok. I know that I need double glazing, but that is very costly and so is being installed as and when windows need replacing anyway. I know that I can’t have cavity wall insulation because I have solid stone walls. An expert would say have solid wall insulation but who wants to reduce their room sizes, have loads of disruption and have to redecorate the whole house!! The external option would be expensive, spoil the look of the house and probably not be allowed in my conservation area.

I also know I could do with a more efficient boiler, but mine works and until it fails why spend thousands on a new one? I also know I should have more energy efficient light bulbs, but they look awful in some of my light fittings, are dingy and don’t work with dimmer switches (of which I have lot).

So, what can these experts tell me???

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Chris

John,
Clearly these experts won’t be able to tell you very much at all.
That is other than you are going to be having some rather large energy bills in the future.
The choices are yours.
Adapt to a future where the cost of staying warm and in the light remain affordable or hang on to an attitude of “I don’t like the look of my insulated home” “I won’t change my light fittings or look for low energy bulbs to fit the ones I have” “I won’t have better windows, even though sympathetic period designs are now available” and “I won’t get a new boiler even though 50% of the expensive energy I buy goes up the flue”
A couple more years of energy price increases like we’ve been seeing recently might make you think again.
But like I said the choice is yours, no one is forcing anything on you (except perhaps the low energy lighting with the outlawing of the old bulbs)

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Dave D

John & Chris – The boiler matter concerns me: the latest Which? magazine arrived today and after a cursory glance at it it would appear that Which? are now also issuing the advice that BBC’s “You and Yours” and “Moneybox” issued over three years ago and keep repeating: If you have a working old boiler you will never ever recoup the cost of replacing it in the expected lifetime of a new model. John’s attitude seems to suggest he’s heard the same; Chris’ response is diametrically opposed/ Could either of you add any more to explain your views please?
My own plumber tells me that replacing my 31 year old boiler (which according to http://www.homeheatingguide.co.uk/efficiency-tables.php?make=Glow-worm has a 79% efficiency rating) would cost me about triple what I could expect to save by having a new one, unles sthe new one lasted at least 20 years. I heard on “You an yours” about 15 months ago that new boilers have a manufacturers’ expected life span of 8 years. The latesr Which? magazine states 12 years for this. EIther way the chances of me getting 20 years out of one seem quite low. Chris – can you offer any further info on this at all – I’d be very interested as it sounds as thoughI am in a similar boiler situation to John.
As for CFL’s and cavity (or solid) wall insulation, I am using a lot of CFL’s but hey don’t last very long compared to either the 1980′s “jam jar” energy savers or traditional incandescent light bulbs – at present I am far from convinced that the saving in electricity outweighs the cost of frequent replacements. I am hoping for much greater availability of LED bulbs very soon as I believe that these should offer a better solution.
My cavity walls are not insulated and three CWI’s who have been to quote have told me that they are unsuitable and that I will have terrible damp problems if I have CWI. I accept that this means I may pay more for my heating than with CWI, but my buildings maintenance costs are lower than with damp everywhere.
Incidentally, my neighbours have a new combi boiler that is SEDBUK “B” and in the last winter months they paid almost £700 for gas from the same supplier (and as far as I know the same tariff) as me whilst I paid a little under £400. I know very well that we cannot compare the two homes without knowing a great deal more about far too many variables to make it practicable, but it doesn’t inspire me to rush out and buy a new boiler I must say.
This is why I think Kelly’s intro is so important: every single home is different and every single occupier is different: advice that suits one (or even one-thousand) properties still doesn’t suit 100%: we do need access to impartial and professional advice.

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Bryan

I agree with the 3 comments already stated. Somewhere to go for impartial advice based on my circumstances would be welcomed.
At present I am being cold-called for Thermal Wall Coverings as I have solid brick walls.Does such covering help with insulation. Similarly, internal Thermal Paint. Has any one out there had experience.
How about Which doing a test?

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Steamdrivenandy

Bryan

Have a look at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/propertyadvice/8688869/Does-insulation-paint-make-any-difference.html.

Jeff Howell has been writing a property advice column in the Sunday Telegraph for years and years and gives out excellent advice and tries to debunk a lot of these government schemes that are just ways for large businesses to make shedloads of money with abysmal surveying and work standards.

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Chris

If you take notice of Jeff Howels you’ll live in a very very well ventilated home which will still be standing in 500 years time but you’ll pay a massive energy bill.
Admittedly some of his advice is text book but he has this obssesion that insulation is inherently a bad thing. He also automatically dismisses any government initiative to improve the lot of the average home owner, claiming profiteering etc etc.
The difficult part is that some of his advice is sound but his obssession means some is going to cost you a lot of money.
Overall I wouldn’t call it excellent advice and I’d recommend getting a second and even a third opinion.
And if you buy his book who’s profiteering then?

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Dave D

I’ve never read Jeff’s column in my life before I followed that link, but I must admit that I can see why his advice is attractive, even if not 100% the best advice there is.

For me, as an ex-schoolteacher (still working in education) I eye all government sponsored / supported / endorsed schemes – for anything at all – with great suspicion because I remember the “Laptops for teachers” scheme. Under that scheme, as readers may very well know, the Government wanted every school teacher to have their own laptop computer. To help them on the way there were government grants available towards the cost.

The catch was that in order to get the grant you first of all had to buy a laptop from a moderately restricted range and it had to come from a VERY VERY restricted number of suppliers. The range of laptops included all of the ones that IT professionals and all the Computer magazines and so on rated as the most over-priced and least reliable. The suppliers (most of whom long since went bankrupt or were taken over by rival companies) were the ones who were constantly being taken to Trading Standards for sharp practice or who were being slated for poor service in reviews.

The bottom line was that if you went to a reputable shop and bought a popular and recommended model of laptop, you could buy it cash for less than you’d have had to pay to “top up” the grant against even the cheapest model available under the scheme.

As far as I can tell, most other government schemes for things like boilers, insulation, solar energy, etc., appear to have more than a slight whiff of the “Laptops for teachers” about them, and with the best will in the world and as someone who has taken many many energy efficiency measures and would love to take more if I knew they were worth it, it makes me very doubtful about all these ideas.

This again backs my point made in 3 other posts on this board already that the critical issue is the IMPARTIAL and PROFESSIONAL advice.

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BobP

I must agree with the above letters as who wants someone trying to explain what is needed in your home , O.K.they may be beneficial to a certain extent but at what cost to the householder & is it an affordable solution . We Have had cavity wall insulation done to the walls but how do we know that it completely filled every bit of the cavity as when we had double glazing fitted & the old frames pulled out it was not as tightly packed to the frames as I had expected so that was to my mind not perfect . About18 months after having the windows fitted a salesman called to ask if I was satisfied with my windows !! WHY ? answer they might not be very good at keeping in the warmth / cold out or perhaps you are getting condensation along the bottom of the windows . Well if there was a problem I would have had the people back to put it right . We can supply you with a more superior glass than you probably have had fitted .So do you think I have money to burn as this is almost new windows so do you think that I will have them ripped out & have yours fitted only to find after an enormously high cost they are out of date in another 18 month time , also needing replacement . We have a gas Baxi boiler fitted behind a gas fire that was originally fitted when the property belonged to my mother some 20 years ago on bottle gas then changed to Mains gas when it came to the roadway , the only thing touch wood that has been needed in that time has been about four thermal couplings , my plumber said I could not have another behind the fire adjacent to the airing cupboard fitted again as now they have mostly got to be of a condensing type but most of all fitted to an outside wall . WHERE as there is nowhere that is suitable & cannot get the piping to the hot tank as it is a bungalow with solid floors & of course they have only a life of about 10 years . Yes bring it on but only if you give it to me because I do not want or need it , why fix it if it is not broken just because it uses less gas , My gas bill would not be around £3,000 plus in the next 10 years . Conclusion if I do everything needed to run an green home it will take all our savings never to get in front of the cost causing the items thrown away making the green reasons to go ahead with it all complete rubbish . It will never be done !!.

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Dave D

Following your point, Bob, about the efficiency of the boiler, I also note, and should have said this in my last post a bit further up, that even the Energy Saving Trust say ( and I have a letter from them with this in writing) that they know that ALL new boilers will use MORE gas than the old ones, but they will burn it more efficiently.
It took me along tome to get my head around this concept but eventually I got there. (Incidentally they say the same and it’s in the same letter I have about new energy efficient washing machines.)
I can’t see the point in buying a new appliance (or any kind) just because it use the energy more EFFICIENTLY if it is not also going to use LESS of the energy to start with???????

I don’t know – it’s all far too complicated, but for the 4th time on ths Convo I’m going to say that the key issue is getting impartial and professional advice and that it must be (as Kelly said in her intro) tailored to your own house and habits.

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Chris

Unless the assessor made a complete hash of the inspection your energy performance certificate did not contain non-actionable recommendations.
Cavity wall insulation is not recommended if the property has solid walls.
Loft insulation is not recommended in non-top floor flats.
A modern energy efficient boiler is not recommended if you already have one.
But yes low energy light bulbs are recommended if you don’t already have them installed everywhere. Yes you will have to eventually but there are still lots of the old energy hungry bulbs out there.
Look at your energy performance certificate again????

Energy performance inspection results are subject to periodic audit. If your certificate carries non-actionable recomendations the assessor’s professional abilities must be questioned.

I am an assessor.

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Steamdrivenandy

Energy performance certificates are a rip off. They are so generalised that they are of very little value to anyone with more than two brain cells to rub together. How can you mark a house on energy efficiency when some of the items (like so called efficient light bulbs) can be removed and switched for the older type as soon as the inspector is out the door.
However they do intimidate the gullible and the easily led and I bet lots of little old ladies have spent money they can ill afford on new boilers and stuff and will never get payback unless they live to 180. That sort of thing should be on every eco warriors conscience.

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Chris

Steamdrive nandy,
Think you’re missing the point a bit.
Yes to someone reasonably intelligent who does some research home energy efficiency is not rocket science (mind you there are plenty out there who don’t give it a second thought).
However, the idea of an energy performance certificate is to have an independant assessment resulting in a rating to enable would be buyers or renters to make informed choices, on a like for like basis, before they commit to buy or rent.
Energy assessors do not intimidate the gullible or anyone else to buy new boilers or any other improvement measure for that matter, selling anything is against the rules.
However an energy performance rating does highlight areas of efficiency weakness to help a potential buyer or renter, who might be looking at several properties.
And for your information 100% low energy lighting or none at all makes only a slight difference to the rating, but it will save someone up to £100 a year on their bill, no ones choce but yours.

But you clearly know better so you take no notice and carry on paying through the nose for your gas and electricity, and as time marches on you’ll pay more and more.
The smart money is on the people who actually take notice of the certificate before they buy, and who use it as a negotiating tool to get a better deal.

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Dave D

Chris – with your professional assessor’s hat on, can you tell me a bit about these energy performance certificates?

As far as I can see (and I have to say I’m going on what my partner saw on house sale brochures when buying a house last January – I’ve never had one of these things done for my house and never tried to use one on my own property) they seem to be very wishy-washy about what savings can be made and about what measures could be taken to achieve these savings. I don’t ever recall seeing any recommendations other than: new boiler, CFL’s, double-glazing, CWI and Loft Insulation. I’ve never, for example, seen one recommend fitting Solar PV or Solar hot water, nor any mention of heat pumps, wind turbines, or different sources of primary heating (e.g swapping gas for solid fuel or vice-versa). Do the assessors (like you) have the authority to make any of these other recommendations? If not why not? If you do why don’t they seem to happen very often?

I’m really curious about all of this as it frustrates me very much that it seems so hard to get decent advice, even when an assessor has visited the home.

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Chris

Dave D,
The assessment for an Energy certificate involves looking at the construction type, insulation levels, energy source (especially for heating, if gas, electric, oil etc), heating controls, glazing type and several other things.
The information is taken away and run through standard software to produce the certificate. The result is based on standard occupancy so a comparison with other properties can be made. This is why the figures for energy use and cost are seldom the same as the actual current bills, people heat and light their homes differently and have different collections of appliances.

Recommendations for improvement fall into three catagories.
Low cost.
This where you see “improve insulation”, “improve heating controls” and “fit low energy lighting”. This is good advice and will give maximum benefit for the lowest cost.

Next comes Higher cost improvements where you see “get a new high efficiency boiler”, “fit double glazing” if you don’t have it and “insulate solid walls”

Finally comes further measures to imrove your rating like consider “solar water heating”, “Solar PV” and in open rural areas “wind turbines”

Now although an objective, impartial and independant assessment is good for a potential buyer, and will help them make informed choices, there is a fundamental often missed.
Most if not all the public are looking at things from an economical viewpoint. “How can I reduce my costs?” whereas the Governments primary target is to reduce Co2 emmissions. These two often go hand in hand but not always.

If you have a ten year old boiler which is working fine keep it going until it becomes uneconomical to do so. Buy a new higher efficiency boiler and you’ve wasted some of the working life of your old one. The efficiency of the new one won’t be that much greater so over the combined life of both old and new you probably won’t save any money.
But you will reduce CO2 emmissions.

If you have mains gas and a resonably efficient gas heating system you won’t save much if anything by going for an electric heat pump system. Although a heat pump can give 3Kwh output for every 1Kwh of input electricity costs usually around 3 times as much as gas per Kwh, and you spent several thousands on the installation.
But you will reduce CO2 emmissions.

If you install solar hot water you might get free hot water for perhaps 6, 7 even 8 months a year, but mains gas water heating is not a comparatively high cost item (perhaps an average of £10 to £15 per month?) How long is that £3000 to £4000 solar hot water system going to take to pay for itself? Got to be at least 25 years, could be much longer.
But you will reduce CO2 emmissions.

If you go for solar PV you’ll spend perhaps £10,000 or £12,000 on the installation. With the feed in tariff you might make £1000 per year. So after say 10 years you recoup your investment and go on to make £1000 per year until the system reaches it’s expected working life of 25 years. So you probably will make money but you are locked in and profit only arrives after about 10 years, Might suit you or the 25 year “lock in” might not.
But you will reduce CO2 emmissions

Starting to get the picture?
Saving money and lowering CO2 are not always the same. Reducing CO2 could cost us all plenty if we’re not careful. My advice is go for the boring wishy-washy basics first and save money (and some CO2). Then shop around for the more big ticket measures very very carefully.

Now I’m not allowed to put any of this in the recommendations section of an Energy certificate but I’m happy to give my own opinions on some of these more exotic efficiency improvement measures, and I always suggest that plenty of research is done and further independant advice is sought before proceeding.

Having said all that there will be examples where a new boiler is a good idea, perhaps if you have a sub 50% efficient 30 year old model. Payback will be much better and it will need replacing soon anyway.
If you run your heating off very expensive Oil or LPG a heat pump system might be a cost effective way to go.
If you’re up for a 25 year deal why not have solar PV. Mind you gas will have to get very very expensive before I start to think seriously about solar hot water.

I’m happy to give advice to people with the objective of saving money but real detail tailored to an individual property takes much longer than the one to one and a half hour inspection and perhaps another hour to produce an energy certificate. Few people are going to want to pay for a couple of days research work on each house.
I think the current certification system is not perfect but is beneficial in helping provide informed choice for buyers and renters, and over time will be refined and improved.

Well Dave D, you asked, hope this helps?

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Dave

@Chris: many thanks for your detailed response: it is very helpful indeed – thankyou.

The crucial fact that I had not twigged to is the one about everything being driven towards reduced CO2 rather than economy for the user / resident.

No wonder so many things that are being pushed at us seem to save little, nothing or even cost us more.

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Chris

Dave D

You’re welcome,
Now you understand.
This fundamental is not being grasped by most of the public, and Government seems to me not to understand that to get the public to reduce CO2 there has to be something in it for the public.
And this lack of real incentive is why the “green deal” won’t achieve what the Government hopes it will. Not with all your energy cost saving going to pay back with interest for whatever energy efficiency measure you get installed by an “approved installer” charging inflated prices(unless the green deal in it’s final form addresses this issue).

To date Government initiatives don’t seem to me to have a good record.
There is never a big enough grant or subsidy to make the offer universally attractive and schemes seem poorly focused and directed.
£400 off replacements for very old boilers that were going to fail soon anyway coupled to inflated installation costs from “approved installers”.
Who gained the most out of that one?.
£5000 off the price of electric cars, how many of those got sold?

However had they given everyone who wanted it free loft and cavity wall insulation, and probably spend less tax payers money doing it, there would have been a result, lower CO2 and lower energy bills.

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@linniR

Dave D,
Chris’ response to your questions was very thorough and well-informed, but perhaps it was slanted just a little bit against the benefits of acting on the EPC’s recommendations.
It’s true that many of the recommendations will reduce CO2 emissions, as Chris explains. But there is a strong link between reducing CO2 emissions and saving money. This is because, in general, the fuels that create the most CO2 emissions are also the ones that cost most – so by reducing the use of fuels that create emissions, you WILL save money.
The EPC recommendations were designed, by experts, taking into account both monetary and emissions savings. This is why you won’t find an EPC recommending a change from a reasonably efficient mains gas heating system to an electric heat pump system: as Chris says, you won’t save much if anything by making this change, so it isn’t recommended on the EPC.
There is one exception to the general rule that cost and high emissions go hand in hand, and that’s LPG. This fuel type is expensive, but it also has low emissions. Even though its emissions are low, changing to an LPG heating system is not recommended on the EPC, because a change from, say, oil to LPG would tend to increase your fuel bills. Instead, the recommendation is sometimes made to change to biofuels like wood logs or pellets, but not LPG.
I hope this illustrates that the EPC recommendations are not just about reducing CO2 emissions – the creators of the EPC recommendations were very much mindful that readers’ main motivation would be to save money, not CO2.

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Chris

@linniR,
Actually Chris’ points were not in any way “slanted just a little bit against the benefits of acting on the EPC’s recommendations”.
My points were intended to make the change to low Co2 systems and lower energy bills in a timely cost effective and balanced way.
Changing a perfectly serviceable 6 or 7 year old 80% efficient boiler for a new 90% condensing boiler costing maybe £2000 plus does not do that. However changing that boiler at perhaps 10 to 15 years or when it becomes uneconomical to service and maintain (or even impossible through availability of spares) is cost effective.
Likewise with things like heat pumps, solar hot water and solar PV systems, all of which when appropriately installed will save Co2 and achieve lower running costs, need to be looked at from a perspective of installation cost, against savings, against working life.
No sensible, numerate person is going to spend thousands on an energy saving measure only to find that at the end of it’s working life they’re actually worse off.
This is why and where Government must structure grants and subsidies (including the new “green deal”) to provide real incentives for the public to opt for these measures.
I’m all for modern Co2 saving initiatives but I’m also realistic and I’m sure that without real incentive in the form of resulting lower overall energy costs for the public it won’t happen, at least not in the way intended.

My fear is that we’ll just be forced into lower Co2 output just through ever increasing fuel bills, and that will actually kill people.

My issue with the EPC, if there really was one, and remember I actually produce them, is that recommendations do not include what I believe is a common sense approach to the timing and overall cost effectiveness of any recommendation. And because of that the usefulness and credibility of the EPC in the eyes of the public is jeopardised.

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@linniR

hello Chris, thanks for your thoughts on my post. You are absolutely right, without real incentives in the form of resulting lower overall energy costs for the public it won’t happen. I also think that lower costs in the form of lower taxation (council tax, for instance) would be real help in encouraging us all to make these changes.
I am also an energy assessor, and incidentally I project managed the team that defined those EPC recommendations for homes, which is how I know that the rationale was to save money, not CO2.
One of the disadvantages of the EPC recommendations is that it’s not possible, when producing an EPC, to sit down with the client and work through options with them, adding and removing recommendations to suit their circumstances. That can’t be done currently, since the EPC is produced when the home changes hands and the new owner isn’t present.
Within Green Deal, this will happen, because the client will be present. I hope that the ability to adust the recommendations at that point might go some way to dealing with the issues you mention.

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Chris

This article mentions impartial advice. I agree advice should be tailored to the particular house and must be impartial.
However be careful because most advice is going to be coming from people trying to sell you something, and although in many cases the efficiency measures sold may well work out as longer term money savers to describe them as impartial is tenuous.
I produce energy performance certificates and the rules of accreditation to the controlling body is that any assessment I carry out must be impartial. Offering to sell anything is classed as a conflict of interest and strictly not allowed, can’t even recommend anyone to buy from.
I do however try to offer practical advice like if you have a fully functioning boiler of up to 10 years old with an efficiency of say 70% to 80% it would not be economically practical to spend £2000 plus on a new 90% efficient boiler. Wait a few years until your old boiler is no longer viable to maintain or until spares are not available. But do clear the junk out of your loft and get that done, do consider better heating controls, do consider cavity wall insulation. All these thing are low cost improvements that really will save you money.
As for Solar hot water and/or PV do your sums really carfully, take the saleman’s claims with big pinch of salt and get good independant advice. Look very carefully at payback timing and working life of the installation.

As for the “Green Deal” we have yet to see the details but if whatever improvement measures you go for do not still give you a saving on your bills but instead that saving goes to pay for these measures (and interest) where’s the incentive? where’s the gain? why bother?
Trouble is in some cases the saving on your bill won’t be nearly enough to pay for the improvement measure within the installations working life so unless there is a big subsidy whats the point?
We’ll have to see what they come up with to overcome these issues won’t we?

One thing has become more and more obvious to me.
Us, joe public, want to save energy to save money, so we try to embrace at least some of the recommended efficiency measures, well most of us do.
The Government on the other hand really wants to cut Co2 to meet some already signed up to international target. Us the public using less energy helps in this aim but the Government doesn’t seem to mind if saving energy through exotic efficiency measures and poorly thought through schemes actually costs us the public pots of money, so long as Co2 comes down.
Until that paradox is addressed (if paradox is the right term) I can’t see this whole thing working out too well because Co2 control will end up simply coming from increasing energy costs, arguably it already is. Of course we all complain for all the good it will do, but some poor souls on low pensions are going to freeze to death.
Not my prefered way of doing it.

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Dave D

Kelly writes (in her intro): “…..Individual, impartial info
The success of the Green Deal will rely on professionals visiting ….”

This is the nub of the matter and it’s also what would cost the Government most so it’s what we are least likely to get.

The two key words are “Professionals” and “Impartial”: I would very much welcome such advisors.

As an aside, I am very pleased that National Trust and SPAB are making their voices heard and I’m glad that Kevin McC is supporting them.

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paul goodwin

After I put in the loft insulation and state of the art boiler (oil), I arranged a visit from some sort of sponsored scheme. When they heard my house was over 150 years old (no cavity walls), had sash windows (single glazed) and couldn’t get gas, they declined even to visit. They did not even know what a mansard roof was and that is where I guess the savings could be made.

Waste of time and space and yet my fuel bills are subsidising these schemes!

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Russell S

This is a very interesting discussion.

7 years ago I started renovating my own home and found that the advice available was broad and lacking in detail, and there was next to no way of understanding which amongst the wide range of measures available actually suited my home. To cut a long story short, I worked it all out for myself and reduced by bills for 80%. I then started a company (Parity Projects – http://www.parityprojects.com) on the back of this experience as so many people wanted to do that same to their homes but couldn’t get high quality and impartial advice.

Now, after 5 years of helping people along that path, it’s clearer to me than ever that getting that independent advice to put a plan together is absolutely essential, but that comes at a cost. Do you think that people want to offer you free advice because they love you very much, or they feel that in some way they are repaying a debt to society? I’d suggest not.

If the advice is free the adviser will be wanting something in return (to sell you products from which they get a commission etc.) and moreover, because it is free, the cost of the survey must inevitably be kept low and so the quality/detail inevitably suffers. In our experience, if you want bespoke advice which suits your lifestyle and your house, the advice is based on an in-depth survey and analysis which takes time and experience. Both of these cost money. This is one of the risks with the Green Deal, where we could easily see a situation in which the quality of advice becomes generic (and relatively unhelpful) in the race to minimise costs.

In the end, if you want a free survey, you tend to get what you pay for.

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Chris

Russell S,
I broadly agree with you.
I would point out however that any advice you get from an assessor who is providing an Energy Performance Certificate is and must be impartial and independant. Any attempt to sell any product or recommend any particular energy measure installer is a conflict of interest and strictly prohibited.

You are right about the “green deal” I can’t see it working either both from an overall consumer economic viewpoint or from an independant advice viewpoint.
It will be a poorly conceived government initiative where all energy bill savings end up going to line the pockets of Solar energy, heat pump and double glazing installers. Because the green deal “advisers” will probably in effect be sales people, and very likely very low paid and poorly trained.
The overall effect will provide very few if any real savings for the customer, but the government might get closer to targets for reduced CO2, which is their only real aim anyway and not to necessarily improve on energy costs for the rest of us.

Truely independant advice as you say will only come at a cost to “someone”. The public I would expect will be reluctant to pay for it and I certainly wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for the Government to pay for it.

Closest thing we have today is the legally required Energy Performance Certificate. Not perfect but it at least covers the basics and is independant and impartial. Buyers and renters are missing a trick if they simply ignore it.

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@linniR

Kelly – you were ‘disappointed with how few of the points put forward in the property’s Energy Performance Certificate or an energy efficiency report from my council were actually actionable for my circumstances’

Did your EPC recommend loft insulation? you say you live in a a first floor flat without mentioning if this is the top floor – if it is, then yes, you can have loft insulation – if its isn’t then no, you can’t. The recommendation for loft insulation will not appear if the assessor recorded that your home is on a ground or mid-floor.
Did that EPC recommend Cavity wall insulation? You say the house doesn’t have cavity walls. If this is the case, the assessor would not have recorded the walls as cavity, and there would be no recommendation to insulate the cavities.
Solid wall insulation? If your home is in a conservation area, that does make it difficult, but not impossible to insulate them externally. The assessor is required to include the recommendation so that you are informed that it is physically possible. You can then take your own decision over whether to apply for permission to add it.
Energy efficient boiler? If you have already got one, again the recommendation won’t be made. Energy-saving light bulbs? Yes, in time we will all have to switch to those anyway, and the same is true for energy efficient boilers. No reason not to let you know how much you’ll save by installing them.

If you have genuine reason to think that your EPC is inaccurate you should report the assessor to his or her accreditation scheme. If they are not doing accurate inspections, they should not be working in this job.

Hi – thanks for all the comments so far, some really interesting points coming up. Just to clarify that I was picking out examples of energy efficiency advice I’ve received from various outlets over the past few years – including an energy efficiency report from a scheme my council offered, energy surveys / audits you can fill in online and not just the EPC. I think the EPC is probably the best independent in-home energy advice homeowners have access to, I just didn’t get much from it for my own circumstances. What was also disappointing was that I didn’t see it for the property I was buying until well after we’d made an offer on it. My own fault for not asking the estate agent earlier, so there wasn’t the opportunity to use any of the info in there as a negotation tool for example, but when you’re buying a home (for the first time in my case) there are so many other documents to contend with that it didn’t immediately spring to mind.

The Green Deal, as others have commented, has to be hinged on independent advice. When Parliament was briefly back from recess (to discuss the rioting), the Government indicated that it would be moving an amendment to the Energy Bill to include something in there that ensures Green Deal assessors act solely in the interests of the household. We don’t know the details of the wording yet, but will be examining it closely…

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@linniR

Kelly – thanks for the positive response about the value of an EPC. But no, it was NOT your own fault that you didn’t ask the estate agent earlier to see the EPC. If you didn’t know it was available, how could you be expected to ask for it?

The agent is required to show the EPC rating graphic on their property adverts, but this is often not enough to alert buyers and renters that there is a much more informative, full EPC document for the property, of which the graphic is just a small part.

Fortunately, the law is changing soon to ensure that the whole EPC will be shown with particulars – not just the graphic. This may be as soon as October this year, but it can’t come soon enough for me.

Without this, too many buyers and renters will miss out, just like you did, on the chance to use any of the info in there as a negotation tool. Aah – of course – estate agents act for the seller, not the buyer, don’t they? Is this why they didn’t show it to you? Surely not!

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Green deal debate

The whole Green Deal scheme is at risk of becoming a laughing stock of labour proportions if the Green Deal advisors are not independent and impartial, once market forces kick in, the low paid commission based advisor will be under pressure to manipulate surveys and push products, i just know this is going to happen, we have seen it all before with the epc industry, oversupply of assessors driving down fee’s etc, advisors end up getting disillusioned and want their training fee’s back and then some, and will chase commission fee’s whilst not caring what happens to the Green Deal recipients.

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Chris

Green deal debate,
I think I see your point, and I agree with some of it, but your linking of commission chasing advisors with the over supply of energy assessors is flawed.

Of course you are correct about there being problems if green deal advisors are also commission chasing sales people. There will indeed be a tendancy to tailor advice in a way that offers the best chance of a sale, rather than that advice being in the best interest of the home owner. This already happens. Look at the way some green products are being promoted now, often using sharp practice no better than door to door big six energy company sales.

However with regard to energy assessors.
Yes there is an over supply, the result of training companies pushing, promoting and cashing in on a lot of out of work people in time of recession.
Yes fees have as a result dropped to levels where becoming an assessor is certainly not a very attractive financial proposition, and that can be coupled with a currently very slow housing market reducing EPC demand. Fees can be very low especially when working through an agency or an estate agent both of whom usually make more in fees than the assessor actually doing the job.
It would help if more people realised they’ll get a better deal if they commission an assessor themselves rather than get an “agent” to “arrange it” for them and charge twice as much.
Yes I’m sure plenty of people who retrained as energy assessors are very disallusioned, and anyone going through training now is perhaps not making the best carreer move of their lives.
But energy assessors who do currently practice do not sell anything and therefore do not collect commission so there will be no incentive to manipulate surveys or push products.
In addition EPC surveys are periodically audited so as to maintain consistency and standards.

Regarding advice for the green deal we might well find the best approach is to base advice on an impartially produced variation of the EPC survey, and get energy assessors to do the surveying in the best interest of the home owner.

But one thing for sure I’ll agree with you about is that the Government is unlikely to think this all through properly and make a good job of the green deal scheme. Hope I’m proven to be mistaken but I’ve a feeling based on their record to date that they will get it horribly wrong.

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Rural energy user

Historic buildings from about 1800 to 1919 are among the easiest, as long as you refrain from covering up architecturally important or listed features. I cannot understand the nonsense emerging from English Heritage et al and I know about ten houses which were externally insulated in the late 1970s with 100-150 mm exp. polystyrene and are still in perfect condition.

Almost nothing is simpler than external solid wall insulation – it works and if it is thick enough it saves a lot of energy, especially if you are in a rural area with an oil or LPG boiler.

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opinion8

Thermostatic Radiator Valves : I have some questions.
It seems that over the summer the function in all my Thermostatic Radiator Valves has atrophied. To start with they all seemed to be acting as simple on/off switches, but not reacting to the changes in room temperature at all. This now seems to have deteriorated to the point where all the radiators are on all the time. This makes the rooms uncomfortably warm, and ramps up the running costs of the system. So I need to do something (masterly inactivity would have been my preferred option).
First step is to go round with a hammer and a pair of pliers to make sure that all the spiky uppy downy bits do still move. Those I have looked at so far do seem to, but there are bedrooms with hungover offspring I can’t get to at the moment. So my conclusion is that it is probably the thermostatic part of the valve that has failed and no longer opens and closes the valve.
The easiest thing to do would just be to buy straightforward replacements – I think what I have are ACL Drayton RT212s The characters ACL and Lifestyle appear on the plastic bit, but I can’t find RT212 anywhere. The entire valve would cost £8.99 each – though I only need the thermostatic bit.
[Question1 : could I buy just the thermostatic bit?
However there do seem to be options which might result in
a) a more pleasant home environment
b) reduced running costs.
For instance Housetech Intelligent Solutions sell a system which puts a trv on each radiator, controlled by a room sensor. Potentially it could link back to the boiler to switch that off if all radiators were in warm rooms. It is hard to disagree with their assertion “TRVs are attached to the radiator so they are measuring air temperature at the hottest point which is inaccurate. In our opinion the worst place to measure temperature” They claim savings of 25% and payback period of 18 months. I reckon that if I were to buy one Wireless Room Thermostat and 4 Valve motors I could control all four bedrooms (with a compromise on the room by room temperature control) for an outlay of about £200. I don’t believe I’d get my money back in 18 months but it would be part of a gradual reduction in cost and increase in comfort.
Question 2: has anyone bought this kit from this supplier and can make comments on it?
Now there are still other options (wouldn’t life be easier if there weren’t?).
For example, on sale at the moment are Pegler Terrier I-Temp i30 Vertical Programmable TRV Now at £23.40 each the experiment with these for my four bedrooms would cost about £100. Advantages would be that each room would have a programmable thermostat – so bedrooms could be set to come on not too long before bedtime. Disadvantages over the Housetech solution would be that the valves are not motorised (I guess a motor is better than a simple expansion and contraction?) and we are back to sensing temperature at the worst point in the room.
Question 3: Can anyone recommend the Pegler programmable?
Another option is the Myson 2m Remote Sensing TRV but I think I don’t fancy this. For almost as much money as a Pegler all I achieve is moving the sensor, in return for which I get an irritating bit of wire.
Question 4 : Have I missed something about the Myson Remote?
Which of course brings me to the most important question of all
Question 5: What have I missed – is there someone out there who actually knows what she’s talking about and can point me in the right direction?

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Steamdrivenandy

I’d get three decent (Which Local recommended) heating engineers round and pick their brains.
They’ll have installed/modified systems recently and will have opinions on all sorts of kit. Use their knowledge and balance their comments. You don’t need to use any of them for installation but you’ll gain by speaking to people who work in the field.

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