Not so HIP

The government is determined to force home owners to pay more than £200 for a green energy certificate when they put their house on the market. HIPs (Home Information Packs) which will be obligatory from June this year, will rate houses' energy efficiency and must be available even before potential buyers view a property.

The initiative might encourage some people to make their homes more energy efficient but more likely it will reduce the housing stock and force prices even higher. Older houses are obviously less energy efficient and the new complication arising from the certificates might deter people from selling their properties.

HIPs is not a solution to the problem but another way for increasing the government's control over people's lives and a way of filling its coffers...



One problem with Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) is that the overall energy performance will be very difficult to calculate accurately. It is not possible to establish the efficacy of insulation simply by asking what type of insulation is installed. Checking the insulation claims will usually not be practical, because it would require damaging the property. And even if checked in one location, there is no guarantee that the insulation is well-installed and that gaps have not been left at joins etc. The most effective way to establish the complete efficiency picture is to carry out full thermal imaging of the properties, but that is not mandated by the proposals, and is unlikely to be adopted widely, due to the cost. It is very likely that the EPCs will be sufficiently inaccurate that people will quickly learn to take them with a pinch of salt. The cost will remain, while the purchasing decisions may be barely affected.

The focus on the technical capability of a building is anyway, typically of government-mandated measures, myopic and lop-sided. The energy performance of a building is as dependent on the behaviour of its occupants as it is on its technical capability. Double-glazing and insulation are of little use if the householders overheat the building and then open the windows to let it breathe, or heat unoccupied rooms, or leave lights and appliances on. Design and behaviour can interact, such as where a house is designed for solar gain by incorporating as much south-facing glazing as possible - the benefit will be maximised by occupants who ensure blinds or curtains are drawn on cold days and closed on hot days, and very much diminished where occupants fail to follow these simple guidelines.

For a real picture of the energy-performance of a building, the best a prospective buyer could do would be to ask to see at least a year's record of the energy bills for the house, and judge from the visit whether the house is over-heated or wastefully lit. For those who are really concerned, this could be supplemented by thermal imaging.

There should be no need to mandate the provision of such information, let alone something as potentially misleading as an energy survey. If the cost of domestic energy were proportionate to its impact on the environment, it is likely that buyers would insist on the information, and where they fail to do so, caveat emptor. It is fear of the fuel poverty myth that drives all political parties to prop up unrealistic prices for domestic energy. So long as they continue to do so, their other measures to try to reduce our domestic energy consumption will be cosmetic, distortionary and pointless.