Housing: It's time to make the sustainable changes the planet needs
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After the COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, everyone’s attention is focused on how they can make a personal contribution to tackling the problem of global warming.
Given that a huge percentage of carbon emissions in the UK derive from housing, it’s not surprising that how we heat our homes is firmly in the spotlight.
For residential landlords the rules are already strict – and they are about to get stricter.
Currently, a home can only be let if its Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating is ‘E’ or better. From 2025, even that is being tightened up, and let properties will have to have an EPC rating of ‘C’ or better.
Though 2025 may seem like a long time away, there is going to have to be some considerable investment by many landlords to make their homes lettable as millions of UK homes fall below this benchmark.
Getting a home to an EPC rating of ‘C’ is not just about replacing the boiler (although more about that in a moment), but may require a raft of measures such as improving insulation, installing higher-performance windows and considering renewable solutions such as photovoltaic solar panels.
The good news is that a recent survey by Shawbrook Bank suggests that while tenants are increasingly demanding that their homes are sustainable, they are prepared to pay higher rents for the privilege. The bank’s research showed that 18pc of tenants would be willing to pay more rent if windows were replaced; 15pc would be open to a rent increase to achieve a new boiler and heating system; and 10pc would pay more for a home with solar panels installed.
Hopefully this will give landlords the confidence to invest now, rather than waiting until 2025 and having to spend on upgrading their properties at the last minute. And those early adopters of new sustainable technology tend to be the ones who receive the most government help to make the change.
This was the same with solar panels (many early adopters are now enjoying Feed-In Tariff payments of 55p per kilowatt). An announcement last month suggests that a similar subsidy will be available for those willing to replace existing gas boilers with more planet-friendly air-source and ground-source heat pumps.
From April 2022, grants of up to £5,000 will be available for those switching to low-carbon heating systems, which will sweeten the pill considerably. While heat pumps won’t be suitable for every property – they require space outside for the pump, and indoors for the water cylinder – for many this will be an attractive prospect, especially for landlords whose homes may be unlettable in just four years.
With tenants apparently willing to pay a premium for energy-efficient housing, with government subsidies available next year to make the switch, and with the prospect of new rules forcing landlords to make their properties more sustainable, there is little reason to wait.
And the most important thing of all is that only by making the UK’s housing stock genuinely more planet-friendly can we hope to come anywhere near the climate targets which are necessary for us all to have a future.
Phil Cooper is lettings partner at Arnolds Keys. Find out more at www.arnoldskeys.com
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