/ Home & Energy

Home improvements – will the law force you to be green?

The decision to renovate your home could soon get trickier – the government’s mulling over regulations that would require you by law to make energy efficiency improvements to your home when you renovate.

The Department for Communities and Local Government is proposing that when you’re carrying out renovations or improvements to your home, you’ll be required to spend a percentage of the value of those works on what they term ‘consequential improvements’.

The requirements could extend to all improvements available through the new Green Deal scheme, such as a new boiler or solid wall insulation.

How much will it cost? Well, the proposals say that if you’re planning an extension you might have to spend up to, or even beyond, 10% of the cost of the planned works on extra energy efficiency improvements.

The proposed rules will also affect you if you’re planning on installing a new boiler or replacing some or all of your windows. Of course, these are already required by law to be energy efficient, but under the new rules you would trigger a requirement to install energy efficiency improvements too – loft insulation, cavity wall insulation, hot water cylinder insulation or draughtproofing.

A boost for the Green Deal

Such regulations already exist for extensions of 1,000 sq metres or more. That’s pretty massive, so doesn’t affect many renovation projects, but the new proposals would mean a much broader range of home improvements would be covered by this.

This could also push a lot of people to take up the Green Deal – the government’s plan to help people finance energy efficiency measures through loans paid back via energy bills. That scheme comes with its own set of challenges for consumers, such as early repayment penalties and potentially inaccurate assessment procedures.

We’re worried that making people carry out these ‘consequential improvements’ will put them off wanting to improve their home. In some cases this could be dangerous; for instance, if you chose not to replace an old boiler because you didn’t want to pay an extra 10% for energy efficiency improvements.

This isn’t small beer either, every year there are 1.4m boiler replacements, 1m homes that have windows replaced and 200,000 extensions or loft conversions.

Too heavy-handed?

Consumer research carried out for the Energy Saving Trust suggests that people will feel aggrieved at being forced to carry out extra energy efficiency work. We think there’s a place for a ‘carrot and stick’ approach to encouraging greener homes, but this seems to be a touch heavy handed and risks alienating people further from the very concept of energy efficiency.

We’re also concerned that the government hasn’t addressed the practicalities of the process for consumers. It will be far more complicated to arrange extra building works on top of the improvements they were originally planning.

Of course, energy efficiency is really important and can be a simple and effective way of saving money on your energy bills, but this kind of approach could undermine efforts in this area. There’s also the worry that it could force people into the hands of ‘cowboy’ builders.

So what do you make of these plans – are you planning an extension or a new boiler? Do you think it’s fair to expect people to do this, or would it put you off wanting to do it at all?

Comments

If the government were serious about Green Energy then it would seem that the way forward is to insist that every new house/building is built with its own solar panels.

Then it should subsidise properties already built, so that they contribute to the energy bank

The energy produced would give the householder free energy and the excess energy could be fed back into the energy system. The excess energy could be sold to the energy suppliers and the resulting revenue could offset the local Council Tax.

I am sure that this is a cheaper method of producing energy and woukld certainly stop our landscapes from being eyesores.

As an after thought. The excess energy revenue could be used to build water resevoirs and pipelines to water shortage areas and the water sold on to the water companies.

If the government gave very cheap loans for loft insulation and solar power panels, plus all new buildings to have solar panels, then self sufficiency would be an attainable goal and cut drastically our need to rely on imported gas.

If the government allowed a 10 to 20% build in every village and hamlet in the UK this would generate work at the very grass roots level of society. and relieve some of the countryside housing shortage

Home improvement schemes are just tinkering with the problem and ensuring a massive bureacratic fest. They sound good to government but it’s addled thinking – or desperation stakes by governernment

Again, penalise the consumers, rather than the industries.

I’ve just bought a new house and the only thing you are guaranteed of is insulation.

If builders aren’t required to do anything more than to just build it with insulation, why should the owners of older properties be forced to make changes?

It’s their property, they bought it, it’s their decision what they do with it, not the governments

Andrew Warren says:
10 April 2012

This is simply not true. If it meets the official minimum requirements, a new home will have standards set for lighting , heating equipment like boilers and controls and glazing – as well as insulation for floors, walls and roofs.

The key word is “if”. The last full study of new houses found that approaching half failed to incorporate the minimum energy saving requirements. But no builder has ever been prosecuted for such failures to comply.I wonder why?

My point is that it relates to the sale. Builders would never be able to sell a house without insulation, they still need to offer gifted deposits and assisted moves in order to shift them anyway.

The insulation is the most effective, along with double-glazing I’ll give you that.

Any sensible person, when performing home improvements would insulate first, why does there need to be a government “initiative” to force this through? If it’s not insulated and with double glazing then they’re not going to be able to shift it unless it’s in a specific conservation area.

One also looks at our boiler setup and has to conclude, is this really the most efficient way?

We have a great big boiler downstairs and a huge tank upstairs. The boiler appears to be almost always on (heating the water) but we haven’t had a bill yet so can’t really check.

However, you are incorrect insofar as no-one polices this. The NHBC polices these policies and provides a certificate to prove it. However, when you see this in action, we have had to have a bar put over the bottom of the window sills so that “kids don’t fall out of the window”.

What I’m saying is that they go too far in interfering with peoples properties, the points you mentioned are something that no-one in their right mind would buy without, what their new “standards” should be focussing on are things like Water butts, solar panels, intake pipe turbines and the like.

Not sure about this.

Much better to make the building industry take on new approaches. For example fit rain water butts as standard. Install led lighting.

Andrew Warren says:
10 April 2012

A basic numerical error: you begin the second section of your report by stating that “such regulations already exist for extensions of 10,000 square metres or more”. The correct figure is actually 1,000 sq metres or more- a rather fundamental difference!

Curiously, you omit to inform anybody that this is entirely due to the requirement to implement the Energy Performance of Buildings directive, originally passed in 2002. That directive has been revised and updated. So , under Article 7 of the new directive, from January 2013 that size restriction disappears.

Rather a crucial point, don’t you think?

Hello Andrew, thanks for pointing that out. You’re quite right – it’s 1,000 sq metres, which we’ve now changed. 10k sq meters would be a huge multiplex – sorry about that.

Improving your home you already have to pay VAT at the full amount. We were mid way through a house renovation when the rate of VAT increased, costing us £1000s extra. If you are forced to do yet more work for home improvements that many people find challenging to find the money for already, all that will happen is there will be less home improvements, more dangerous old electrical wiring, and more dangerous old gas boilers. It’s just yet another way of collecting more money off those who can afford to pay, but also prevent others from being able to afford to improve their homes.

That’s the government for you – we say, you pay, and then they take all the credit for a ‘good’ idea

I would be in favour if the entire work is rated at 5% VAT rather than the onerous 20% VAT rate. New build is zero-rated, so why should extensions incorporating energy saving improvements pay through the nose?

Bottom line, what happens if a pensioners boiler failed during the winter and it needed to be replaced?

They don’t have the money to make improvements but can just afford the boiler, due to their age they will be dead before they repay the green loan – what then?

Personally I will ignore any law brought in on this, I will do what I can afford and no more, they can do what they like to me after that but they will end up having to support my family and it will cost them a damn sight more than the 10%.

Toby Cambray says:
12 April 2012

Green deal loans are linked to the property, not to the occupier, so if the occupant who undertakes work under the GD moves on for whatever reason, the new occupant will continue to pay off the loan – but also reap the benefits of increased comfort and lower energy bills.

Agree entirely, if the ‘extra’ improvements were to be zero rated for VAT then that might be a different matter.

Mind you seeing the section 106 and CIL stuff coming through, chances are that planning permission will be denied unless the relevant percentage is shown on the application and the detail of those changes listed.

Malcolm Fry says:
10 April 2012

Like many things, sounds like a basically good idea, but the devil will be in the detail (exceptions etc.)

The idea of giving a VAT break on the energy saving measures would help. Why not go one step further: If the energy saving measures form more than a certain proportion of the overall project, then treat the WHOLE project as if it were a “new build”. This would not only serve as an incentive, it would also give a shot in the arm, to both the building and energy conservation industries.

pickle says:
11 April 2012

Well, what about older properties – those in the Grade2? Planning will not let you fit solar panels and solid walls will not accept cavity wall insulation. In fact any insulation to walls will affect the “historic” nature of the building.
So we who have these older properties are stuck in a void and have no alternative but to pay up…..

Maybe okay in principal but it will depend on the detail on how onerous or workable the scheme would be.
i.e. You do improvements costing £2000 , then have to find some energy saving work costing £200 to undertake . If you have already done all the cheap easy stuff you will have problems.

Pickle comments about Listed buildings and Conservation areas are also relevant.

Malcolm Fry says:
11 April 2012

The unintended consequence may be that people will no longer do energy conservation measures, UNTIL they are doing some major works, in order to ensure they have some “cheap conservation measures” “in hand”!

John Cannell says:
13 April 2012

If the government is serious about saving energy, why don’t they offer free cavity wall insulation to everyone? I have tried to claim a few times, but because I don’t meet other criteria I would have to pay the going rate. Hopefully when I’m past 70 it will be free….And free solar panels would be a Good Thing too. When you get older the pay-back period is just too great for the investment to be cost effective in most cases.

RON CLARKE says:
13 April 2012

I think that this proposed legislation is far too heavy handed. If people decide that they want lower running costs and decide to make their property a bit more energy efficient than that is fine and up to them. If the legislation were to go ahead there would be a lot more cowboys doing jobs who dont really know the implications of what they are doing and would just be out for a quick buck. If all the work were done according to government directions most people would only save a very small amount in fuel bills so it doesn’t really warrant doing work that could even ruin your property. People have to use their common sense not rely on directives.
I feel also that far too much money is being spent on green issues making things more and more difficult, because of legislation and targets when really it should be remembered that if we all stopped heating our homes and driving our cars and ceased to function in the way that we do now the total CO2 saved would be less than 0.1% of the world usage. Until some big changes are made worldwide i feel that we are just making life very difficult for ourselves for no gain whatsoever.

John Cannell says:
13 April 2012

Exactly my point, Ron…

Mike Suttill says:
13 April 2012

Ron Clarke summarises the problems very well. Until government realises that the only way it can achieve a practical and affordable energy policy is by scrapping the current totally unachievable targets that the previous government and the coalition have signed up to in order to “look good” for the green lobby then the public will be faced with more of these hare-brained schemes that have unintended consequences. I would recommend that people stay away from the green deal funding and do what they can afford without any additional measures.

Ref comment from DEAN concerning the boiler is always on. In all the houses I’ve lived in for the past 30 years I’ve changed the plumbing to give norlmal pumped primary (central heating) as well as PUMPED secondary (the Hot Water). This method gives BIG reductions. The plumbing is easy (material cost retail around £150) but the electrical wiring is a little complex for the average plumber (similar to cars the mechanic is good at engines etc but struggles with the electrics). A simpler alternative is to fit a modern thermostat that has 5 or 6 heating periods a day.

If anyone would like details and wiring diagrams leave a comment here.

MsSupertech says:
13 April 2012

OK – I have double glazing, a modern efficient combi boiler ( and house not really suitable for condensing boiler). We use low energy bulbs, the loft is properly insulated and we have solid walls so cavity insulation is not an option. The government had just removed the incentive to install solar panels, even if my home was suitable. So if I want to make a property improvement what other energy efficiencies are available going to me? And when did an Englishman’s home cease to be his own castle?? Who is going to snoop around to make sure I’ve complied with this? My local authority can’t cope with the services they’re already supposed to provide…

Jerry E says:
14 April 2012

Bureaucratic nightmare dreamed up by jumped-up nobodies in ivory towers.

Malcolm Fry says:
14 April 2012

From a government’s point of view, any energy savings, by householders, is benefitial. Of course, any householder, with common sense, has to weigh up the capital cost of energy conservation, and whether that is justified by the savings. Unfortunately, whilst it is fairly easy to estimate capital costs, savings are heavilly dependant on the “lifestyle” of the occupants, and difficult to calculate, with any accuracy. Claims by manufacturers that some measure will save “up to” so many percent, should be treated with at least the same scepticism as broadband providers’ claims of “up to” so many Mb/s. Governments could help if they offered some sort of subsidy for independant advice, which is out of reach for all but the well off.

Peter says:
14 April 2012

Since when have ‘estimated savings’ on green issues been accurate? I remember in the sixties when they were trying to sell double glazing claiming to ‘save 50% on your heating bills. What they omitted to say it was 50% of the heat lost through your windows. Also, in the trial areas for this new Green Deal some of the actual savings have only been a fraction of the ‘estimated’ savings. With reference to solar panels, does anyone know the true drop in efficiency of these panels, for example after 8 years? Is it 20, 30 or even 40%; no one seems to have given any ‘actual’ figures as they do require replacing from time to time? And as for wind turbines, all these claims to supply energy to x thousands of homes is misleading. Remember the cold spell in December 2010? The actual power supplied was a small fraction of the theoretical power of all the wind turbines in the UK. The balance was supplied by the back up gas power stations which are built together with wind turbines to ensure continuity of supply. Where is the saving in that and what is the cost of maintaining these wind turbines especially those off shore? I am sorry but I take all these ‘savings’ claims with a large pinch of salt and along with many others think all these green measures are sending this country down hill fast at great speed by making industry uncompetative with the rest of the world due to astronomical energy prices due to all these green measures. Even if we met all the Governments targets for CO2 emissions, what we save in a year India and China will build new industrial units and emit as much as we save in less than a week.

Regarding PV panel efficiently, the current quality panels are typically guaranteed for 80% at 20 years. Since this is easily measured and part of the supplier contract I’d expect at least that level to be true.

Lets make it a legal obligation on the supplier then that if they say you will save 20% then you MUST save that percentage based on the wording of the contract.

If you don’t achieve those savings then they must repay you the cost of the improvement plus the savings cost ( un taxable) for the remainder of the time you occupy the property.