Energy efficiency proponents in the United Kingdom calculate that dilapidated, poorly insulated dwellings add extra and unnecessary annual energy costs for a majority of the country’s householders. A newly released report from the U.K. Association for the Conservation of Energy (UKACE) highlights some of highest space heating costs in Europe, even though gas and electricity prices are lower than in many of the 15 other countries surveyed.
Based on 2013 data, nearly 16 per cent of the U.K. population lives in a home with a “leaking roof; damp walls, floors or foundation; or rot in window frames or floors.” When assessing U values — which measure heat loss through a building’s fabric — the U.K. ranks 7th for walls, 8th for roofs, 10th for floors and 11th for windows among the 11 countries for which data was available.
Nationally, average space heating costs for approximately 26 million residential households are pegged at £1,210 (CAD $2,444) annually, while 30 per cent pay an average of £1,750 (CAD $3,535). Highest U.K. heating costs are estimated at £2,670 (CAD $5,393) annually.
The national average itself reflects less than stellar energy performance. Under the European Union’s (EU) mandatory seven-band A-to-G rating scale, more than 80 per cent of the U.K.’s residential building stock carries D-to-G status. Average space heating costs for the much smaller fraction of A-to-C rated dwellings are £1,122 (CAD $2,266) annually.
The 15 other EU nations were chosen as comparatives for their “fairly prosperous” living standards and similar winter heating seasons. Of these, the Scandinavian countries tend to dominate the top tier for U values and dwelling conditions.
Notably, though, while Slovenia placed 16th in the field of 16 for housing conditions in both editions thus far of the biennial survey, the proportion of its dilapidated dwellings declined markedly from 35 per cent in 2011 to 27 per cent in 2013. In contrast, the portion of dilapidated dwellings in the U.K. remained static at 15.9 per cent in both years of the survey. In neighbouring Ireland, more dwellings fell into disrepair between the survey years — from 11.1 per cent in 2011 to 14.3 per cent in 2013.
U.K. statistics show that the majority of dwellings with low energy performance ratings are privately owned or rented from private sector landlords, and are twice as likely to be located in rural regions than urban centres. Beginning in April 2018, commercial and residential landlords in England and Wales will be prohibited from renting premises or renewing leases in buildings that fail to achieve at least an E energy performance rating.
When that regulation was enacted under the U.K.’s previous minority government, residential landlords were granted some flexibility in the 2018 deadline to wait until funds were available to cover the costs of upgrading buildings to a high rating through the Green Deal program, which provided upfront loans that consumers then repaid through a utility surcharge equivalent to the energy cost savings they had achieved. However, the current majority government cancelled financing for the program in summer of 2015 and stopped taking new applications.
The UKACE now advocates a broadening of funding for energy improvements that could also contribute to achieving national targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“The solution to this crisis is for the U.K. government to designate home energy efficiency as an infrastructure priority and use infrastructure funds to deliver the stable long-term investment needed to implement a locally led infrastructure program to upgrade all U.K. homes to Band C on an energy performance certificate,” the UKACE report submits. “It can also reduce NHS (National Health Service) costs. It is estimated that cold homes cost the NHS £1.3 billion (CAD $2.6 billion) every year.”