lifestyle sustainability

An A-rated home by 2020 – did we do it?

Back in January 2019, I wrote about my family home and my plan to get it to a A rating by the end of 2020. With that a week away, it’s time to take stock and see where we’re up to.

When we bought the house in 2009, it scored 73 on its Energy Performance Certificate – a low C. We made lots of improvements and renovations, including draught-proofing, efficient appliances and LED bulbs, and fitting double glazing. With all the easy stuff done, in the last couple of years I’ve turned to some of the more substantial tasks. The solar panels went on, the external wall insulation, doubling the insulation in the loft, and a new entrance porch and front door.

The last big job was thwarted when our next door neighbour passed away last winter, and the house has stood empty for the rest of the year. That means we’ve been unable to sign a party wall agreement for renovating the back of the house and replacing a decrepit lean-to utility room. That was planned for this summer and it hasn’t been possible.

The underfloor insulation has also been set back, this time by the government’s Green Homes Grant scheme. The bureaucratic wheels turn slowly, and despite applying for the grant on the day it opened, it took months to receive confirmation. In the meantime, the schedule for the work slipped. It was supposed to go in this Wednesday and we’d have had it done this week. As it is, it will be in early January.

The upshot of these delays is that I’ll miss my 2020 target by about a week, which is kind of annoying. But when it does go in, we’ll be there.

I haven’t commissioned a formal EPC survey to check, but the three big jobs over the last couple of years are likely to be enough. There are as many solar panels on the roof as we could fit, and the 3.6Kw would apparently score around 17 points. The underfloor insulation will add 6 points, according to the firm that’s fitting it. The wall insulation would be around the same. Taken together, that will easily kick us over the 92 points needed for a A rating, so I’m pretty confident that we’ll do it.

Does an A rating on the Energy Performance Certificate actually mean anything? That’s an interesting question, and my honest assessment is that it isn’t particularly significant. You can have an A rated building and still be nowhere near true sustainability. I’ve done it as an interim step on the way to being zero carbon by 2025, and I’m not done yet.

The problem with the EPC system is that it’s geared towards efficiency rather than carbon emissions. So our condensing boiler scores quite well, despite running on gas. If we were to rip it out and replace it with an electric boiler, our EPC score would go down, even though our 100% renewable electricity tariff and solar panels would make it effectively zero carbon. That’s because gas is technically a more efficient way to generate heat, and because the EPC bases its maths on the average carbon content of the grid, not the supply to my house.

It’s all rather complicated and I’m not going to pretend I understand it, but criticisms of the EPC system are nothing new. They certainly need a serious rethink in the light of Britain’s net zero by 2050 plans, and that’s in hand. The government comissioned a review in 2018 and published a plan for reforming it in September this year.

For me, the A rating is a stepping stone on the way to the bigger target, which is to reach net zero. I’d like to do that by 2025, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

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