The blueprint for a greener future Posted by Richard Elton 2010 May

Energy Performance Certificates have become a requirement across Europe in a bid to cut buildings’ carbon emissions. Ian Johnson gives an insight into the issues surrounding their introduction in the UK

In the broadest terms, an Energy Performance Certificate, or EPC, grades a building’s energy performance on a sliding scale from A to G, with A being the most efficient.

Energy Performance Certificates are similar to the systems used for grading goods such as refrigerators and light bulbs. There are two types of certificate: a general EPC certificate, required by nearly all buildings and Display Energy Certificate (DEC) for public buildings over 1000 sqm.

EPCs (sometimes referred to as asset certificates) measure the intrinsic energy performance of a building based on its design. Once performed, the certificate lasts for 10 years. DECs, or operating certificates, are renewed annually and measure how much energy is actually used by a building and how it is managed. It is required that they are displayed in a prominent place that is clearly visible to the public.

Rising to the challenge
EPCs were introduced following the European Union Directive, Energy Performance in Buildings. They provide an easily understandable ‘at-a-glance’ guide to energy efficiency and are designed to encourage everyone to think about the issue and take action to improve performance.

An EPC explains what a building’s theoretical energy rating is, as opposed to its actual energy usage. This is based on standard energy assumptions about energy usage and will incorporate information on what energy rating can be achieved if various recommendations are implemented. Every EPC also has a recommendations report showing how improvements to the rating can be achieved.

Nearly all residential, public and commercial buildings will be required to hold an EPC and the law states that when a building is sold or rented out, a valid EPC (not more than 10 years old) must be made available by the owner to the prospective purchaser or tenant. As such it is believed that the EPC will play an important part for businesses in choosing prospective new building acquisitions.

Buildings currently exempt from the legislation are places of worship, temporary buildings in use for less than two years, buildings with a low energy demand such as barns and very small standalone structures such as sheds.

Delivering a positive impact
EPCs can help businesses and organisations in a variety of ways. In an increasingly environmentally-aware age, businesses may want to work towards better EPC rating to demonstrate their ‘green’ credentials in their buildings. Green credentials can give a company an edge over its competitors, as well as demonstrating a high level of corporate responsibility, which may be attractive to potential customers or investors.

Another benefit comes from energy efficiency. EPCs enable business owners to benchmark different buildings and choose the most energy efficient, saving money on energy bills for years to come. For larger businesses, the benefit of having the guidance of an EPC are clear when considered in the context of the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) trading scheme. The scheme, which came into force in April, requires businesses whose power usage was over 6,000 MWh as of 2008 to abide by a new carbon dioxide offsetting trading scheme.

This will require businesses to estimate their carbon usage at the start of the year and buy shares to compensate for this. At the end of the year, businesses must then monitor their actual use and then either buy extra shares (at an inflated price) if they have gone over their estimations or sell of their excess if they have gone under.

The idea behind the scheme is to incentivise the reduction of the carbon footprint that large organisations leave behind. As some estimates are that properties contribute up to half the C02 emissions in the UK each year, the guide that EPCs could provide in helping reduce businesses’ exposure to the CRC scheme may well be seen as invaluable once the scheme reaches full swing.

The emergence of EPCs and DECs should make those responsible for refurbishment, fit-out and new build projects look more carefully at sustainability in the early stages of a building’s development. Pressure is already being levied on the construction industry to provide greener homes for the future and several housing firms have revealed designs for eco homes with the best possible EPC ratings. And as time goes on more commercial property developers are following suit.

To reduce energy bills and aim for the highest A grade (which is currently the most in demand by businesses), factors such as the use of natural light and more efficient mechanical and electrical systems are just some of the factors that will need to be considered.

There is a good reason that green or sustainable buildings are also known as high performance buildings. They not only tend to save on running costs, there is also growing evidence that they can increase productivity and well-being for occupants through improved lighting and air quality.

Where office buildings have been designed or refurbished to be more sustainable, gains in productivity, in terms of better quality of work and reduced absenteeism, can provide as great a financial benefit to businesses as the reductions in energy bills. Refits which are more sustainable can therefore yield faster returns on investment than is commonly expected.

Meeting deadlines
As EPCs for non-domestic buildings came into force under a phased programme between April 2008 and 4 January 2009.
Building owners without and EPC will need to approach an accredited energy assessor to commission an EPC as a matter of course, as it will need to be produced when the property is sold or let.

Responsibility for commissioning EPCs comes under the remit of landlords and property managers. More specific information can be found on the websites of the Energy Saving Trust and The Department for Communities and Local Government.

While Local Authority Building Control officers will ensure certificates are in place for new buildings, council-based Trading Standards will be responsible for enforcement of certificates in existing buildings. And to ensure the system is respected, the Government has introduced a system of financial penalties for non-compliance, with the maximum fine initially set at £5,000. As EPCs cost around £100, it is most certainly in the interest of owners and property managers to perform these checks as the figures speak from themselves.

Though it is required by law, the opportunities that EPCs present to improve a building’s environmental performance should mean that for all owners and managers, EPCs should be desired, not just required.

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