Guest Article from Professor George Martin, Low Impact Building Centre, Coventry University
With approximately 80% of the properties that exist today still being in existence in 2050, the key issue for landlords in the run-up to the 2018 change is that they understand the scale, nature and cost of the various interventions that will be needed to update properties now
The Display Energy Certificate (DEC) provides an up to date snapshot of how well a particular building is performing, based on actual energy consumption unlike its poor relation the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) that only provides a theoretical rating based on assumed patterns of use and occupation and can be up to10 years old! The DEC also reveals what the rating score was in previous years. Consequently it is possible to see at a glance the progress in making that building more energy efficient and less costly to run. There is now considerable evidence (initially anecdotal, increasingly academic) that requiring energy usage to be professionally monitored and the results made visible, delivers enormous improvements in performance.
Landlords need to be aware that the Energy Act 2011 proposes to make it unlawful to lease residential or commercial buildings with an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of F or G from April 2018. In addition, there is a requirement for all new build domestic to be 'zero carbon' from 2016 and for new build non-domestic to be ‘zero carbon’ from 2019. However, the biggest challenge, especially for landlords, relates in particular to the UK's ageing property stock, not built for a world of high energy prices and carbon reduction targets, and lacking in investment in low carbon retrofit over time.
Property developers and landlords also need to ensure that their design, delivery and maintenance teams do not have a blinkered approach to energy efficiency and carbon reduction - as it is vitally important to ensure that the health of the fabric and the occupants are also considered. The existing stock of ‘leaky’ properties, whilst bad for energy efficiency, is good in terms of ventilation and here there is some distressing news from recent research that is showing that many - if not most - of the Mechanical Ventilation and Heat Recovery units installed in recent times are underperforming, which is seriously bad news for the occupants.
It is most certainly not right to assume that all 'modern' property will achieve a good performance in use just because it has a good EPC rating or indeed an ‘high’ BREEAM design rating. Even the highest spec builds with energy efficiency in mind may not be performing as expected. The limited performance gap research available has demonstrated that design targets (and we must remember that EPC is a design tool) are missed by between 20% and an astronomical 500%. We must stop assuming that sustainability-minded design and construction methods are the whole story. Buildings need to be monitored and evaluated for performance once occupied. Only then is it possible to gain a clear picture of the performance in use and capture the learning for future designs.
The property sector needs to move from making procurement decisions based on design tools (e.g. EPCs), capital cost and payback time to making primary decisions based on the performance in use (DECs) and 'whole life costs', backed up by an assessment of the return on investment.
In turn, as attitudes and understanding begins to evolve around performance in use and whole life costs, the construction industry and here I include clients, designers and constructors, will become more focused on delivering buildings that perform sustainably i.e., environmentally, socially and economically.
Professor George Martin, Low Impact Building Centre, Coventry University
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