Hot property: how to heat your home
Regulations mean all private rentals need to achieve an E energy rating in their Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) – so is your property up to scratch?
As it’s usually the tenants who pay the energy bills, it can be easy as a landlord to think fuel efficiency is none of your business. But undertaking a few property improvements that reduce those bills won’t just give you happier tenants, it will meet regulations. Plus, it’s a wise investment that might make your property easier to rent or sell in years to come.
“Many energy-saving improvements are things landlords don’t think about, precisely because they don’t pay the bills,” says Kat Black, landlord and executive at property management software firm Landlord Vision. “Homeowners are much more likely than landlords to, say, insulate their loft. Yet thinking about just how efficient your property is can benefit you as much as your tenants.”
The advice is timely. Since April 2018, all new rental and tenancy renewal properties have been required to have an EPC rating of E or above, as part of the government’s Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES). From April 2020 (or April 2023 for commercial properties), this requirement will extend to all existing domestic private tenancies. This means that any property with an EPC of F or G will be classed as unrentable.
“There are numerous benefits to making your property more efficient,” says Black. “Lower bills attract and retain tenants, and could be a big plus if you ever come to sell the property. But other improvements might also protect your property from damage and prevent expensive repair bills later on.”
So what steps can you take to help make your property more energy efficient?
Insufficient insulation is the biggest single cause of energy deficiency – the Energy Saving Trust (EST) says about a quarter of a property’s heat is lost through the roof in an uninsulated home. Increasing your loft insulation from zero to the government’s recommended minimum of 270mm could add up to as many as 15 points on your EPC, according to energy saving advice portal TheGreenAge.
“This is a particularly cost-effective way of getting your rating up,” says Rob Bence, founder and CEO of London-based Property Hub. “Insulating a loft is cheap, easy and effective – it’s only about £5 a square metre for materials, and for many people it’s a job they can do themselves.”
The EST also estimates that a third of a property’s heat can be lost through uninsulated walls. Most houses built after 1990 will have some level of wall insulation but many that predate this do not have any. Properties built after 1920 are likely to have cavity walls; these can be insulated by a registered professional, which takes a couple of hours and typically costs about £725 for a detached house and £400 for a mid-terrace. Solid, non-cavity walls will need insulating internally or externally, which can be costly; the EST suggests about £13,000 for the former or £7,400 for the latter.
“Without properly insulated windows, your property could be losing up to 10% of its heat,” says Rose Jinks, property expert at insurance specialist Just Landlords. “Double-glazed windows don’t just cut bills; they reduce condensation and noise, making your property more attractive to all.”
However, double glazing is a sizable investment – according to the Double Glazing Price Guide, a three-bed semi with 12 windows can cost between £4,500 and £8,000 to glaze, depending on the materials used. And although doing so will improve heat retention, it will only give you a few more EPC points.
A cheaper alternative could be secondary glazing, which involves installing a pane and frame to existing windows to create an insulating layer of air. “It’s not as effective as double glazing but still saves a significant amount of energy and can be the best answer if you want to keep the kerb appeal of original features, such as sash windows,” says Jinks.
Figures suggest a cost of between £1,800 and £2,100 for a house with 12 windows.
A new boiler
The EST says 55% of the average energy bill goes on heating, so an efficient boiler makes a huge difference. All modern boilers are condensing boilers, which recover more heat from the burning gas. Installation of this type of boiler costs about £2,300 but might improve your EPC by as much as 20 points, especially if it has zonal heating controls.
You can make significant energy savings in other ways, too…
1. LED lights Switching to LEDs (light-emitting diodes) might prove to be a real lightbulb moment. Which? magazine says they use 90% less energy than traditional incandescents and are designed to last more than 20 years. The upfront cost is higher, but so are the energy savings. “LEDs will only improve your EPC by two points,” says Jinks, “but your tenants will be very happy as it should save them money.”
2. Draught excluders While draught excluders won’t make a difference to your EPC, installing them will still prevent heat loss. “This can be anything from brush strips on doors and letterboxes to strips around a loft hatch,” says Black. “They all help make a difference.”
3. Lag pipes and hot water cylinders “Insulating your pipes and hot water cylinder is a quick and easy way to save energy,” adds Black. “As well as reducing heat loss from your system, and therefore saving you energy and money, lagging pipes in a well-insulated loft could help prevent them from getting too cold in winter, and so reduce the risk of them bursting and giving you a costly repair bill.”
You could encourage your tenants to undertake the above measures, as it is in their interests to save money on utility bills. But Black says: “If your property meets the EPC E standard, you’re not obliged to make it more energy efficient, and it is their bills you’ll be saving. You don’t want to encroach on tenants, but emailing them a factsheet about how they can help keep their energy bills down, with a ‘thought you might find this useful’ message, goes a long way to creating a friendly rapport.
“Energy efficiency expectations are increasing all the time. Before 2008, we didn’t have the EPC system, and only two years ago the minimum standard was F. It’s now E – but who’s to say in a couple of years’ time the government won’t raise it again to a D? It’s definitely worth your attention.”