Few people, I fear, have spotted the very large bomb that may be about to be planted beneath the housing market.
Last week, the government’s Climate Change Committee published its ‘Sixth Carbon Budget’ recommending what it thinks the government needs to do in order to meet its target of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Much comment revolved around the proposed ban on new gas boilers from 2033, after which homes would have to be heated either by electric heat pump or possibly by hydrogen boilers, should the government decide to repurpose the existing gas distribution network for hydrogen.
But there is a far bigger nasty concealed in the document that was hardly reported: a proposal that the sale of properties be banned from 2028 unless they score at least a grade C in an energy performance certificate (EPC).
This has serious implications because millions of British homes will not reach this level and cannot be brought up to this standard at any reasonable cost. I have serious doubts as to whether an EPC energy grade means anything, given that it is just a crude estimate of how well an computer algorithm thinks it ought to perform, not a test of how it performs in practice.
Moreover, these reports seem highly sensitive to who is carrying them out – I hade two done on my home in the space of a year, one of which gave me a score of 42 out of 100 and the second, after I had replaced some windows with better-insulated ones, gave me a score of 32. The report informed me that even if I undertook all the recommendations in the EPC, which consisted of fitting solar panels and replacing the boiler, it was only going to bring me up to a score of 49 – a grade E.
In other words, I could spend over £10,000 and still I wouldn’t be allowed to sell my house and nobody would be allowed to buy it. Not only that, the Climate Change Committee recommends that mortgages shouldn’t be allowed on homes with a EPC rating of less than ‘C’ by 2033. So you, you won’t be able to sell, or to have a mortgage on your home. What are you supposed to do then?
There are nine million homes in Britain which, like mine, have solid walls. It is going to be virtually impossible to bring many of them up to a ‘C’ rating unless their walls are insulated. You can do that ‘cheaply’ by stick insulation on the inside or outside, but even so that will cost – in the case of a three bedroom home – between £7000 and £13,000, according to Which. But it is fraught with problems. If your house wasn’t built with a damp proof course – which applies to just about any house built before the 1920s – you could be trapping in damp. More realistically, to achieve a grade ‘C’ rating you would have to undertake a complete refurbishment, stripping the property back to the bricks and starting again. For millions of homeowners, that is not an option.
Has the Climate Change Committee thought for the moment of the repercussions of its recommended policy: to make millions of homes unsaleable? These unsaleable properties would be in addition, of course, to the many thousands of recently-built homes which, although they notionally have excellent energy performance, are unsaleable thanks to flammable cladding and insulation.