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Building Labels

22 October 2008

Just when you thought you were getting to grips with DECs and EPCs - what they are and how to do them - the Government changes the specification again. Jacqueline Balian updates FMs and offers some advice for FMs with limited budgets.

PRESS COVERAGE IN AUGUST ALERTED THOSE OF US WHO haven’t recently bought or sold a house to the fact that HIPs, (the Home Information Packs of which energy certificates for dwellings form the important part) are being ignored by a significant proportion, perhaps as much as 20 per cent, of home sellers. These cavalier chaps are simply marketing their properties without a HIP, which implies that rather more than 20 per cent of home buyers and their legal advisers are not asking for a HIP when selecting a home.

So is the same thing happening in the commercial sector? The 1st October marked the deadline by which all buildings over 1000sq m from which a public service is operated were to have had a Display Energy Certificate (DEC). The original estimate was that by that date some 40,000 buildings would need a DEC. But as the deadline approached and April and June went by without any operational software with which the
Certificates could be produced, it became clear, to the accrediting bodies at least, that it would not be possible to train sufficient DEC energy assessors and for them to carry out the work before the October deadline.

Despite this, the implementation date was not changed. However, some adjustments to the requirements have taken place which have substantially reduced the numbers of DEC certificates needed in the first year.
1. The scope of the Regulations has been altered subtly so that only those buildings which are ‘frequently visited by the public’ need to have a DEC. This is likely to limit the numbers of Ministry of Defence buildings, for example, which will have to have a DEC, although the definition of ‘frequently visited by the public’ has
been left to the courts to decide. The Department for Communities and Local Government suggests that
those in doubt about whether the regulations now apply to them would be best advised to get a certificate.

2. Secondly, all buildings on campus type parks which share services can have just one DEC between them in the first year rather than having to have a bespoke DEC each. This change may reduce the number of DECs needed to as few as a quarter of the originally anticipated levels. However, it will not apply in the second year, and those who have taken advantage of this provision will then need to get an advisory report done for each of their buildings for year two.

The effect of this change should be to help smooth out the DEC workload across the year. This will be highly beneficial because once you have a DEC, you will be required to re-do the DEC at the same time every year. So if everyone rushes to get theirs done in September, there will be a shortage of competent DEC assessors in September 2009.

Those who have started trying to get a DEC to meet their responsibilities for 2008 will already be aware of a shortage of accredited DEC assessors right now. CIBSE, which is accrediting roughly two thirds of all energy assessors, currently has 199 fully accredited, with a further 221 under assessment. Assuming that there are now around 10,000 buildings which need to have their certificates by the end of September, it is clear that these individuals will be kept busy.

Although we don’t know how enthusiastically trading standards authorities will start to enforce the requirements from 1st October, one would assume that their own workload and staffing issues will predicate a pragmatic approach, at least to begin with. However, the fear among the legislators has always been about pressure groups asking for information about which buildings have DECs and then bringing pressure to bear on Councillors etc, if their authority’s buildings are lacking. In this case, having genuinely tried to find an Energy Assessor able to provide your certificate should be a sufficient defence.

The situation with regard to Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) for commercial buildings on construction, sale or let has been rather more stable. The first deadline passed with little or no fuss and numbers of certificates lodged are growing. The July deadline saw some increase in the numbers although the downturn in the property market has had a considerable impact on the number of transactions taking place and hence the number of certificates being lodged. Certainly we are unlikely to reach anything like the 100,000 certificates per year estimated in the Regulatory Impact Assessment.

Nonetheless, major landlords and their agents are taking steps to get their portfolio of buildings the appropriate labels before they are required.

Costs and values
The cost of getting an EPC or a DEC seems to be varying very widely. We hear estimates from £500
to £5,000 plus. The variation depends on: the complexity of the b uilding, the size of the building and the quantity and reliability of information about the building which is readily available to the assessor.

The cost of getting a certificate is a given, you will have to pay it. The question for you, is how to get some value out of this outlay. And there is a way.

The certificates are in two parts, the certificate itself and the accompanying report. The certificate gives you a grade, and an idea of how your building compares with others of its type, but the report could give you much, much more.

A truly bespoke report, produced on your building by a low carbon expert, can provide you with a task list for improving the building and significantly reducing your energy costs – a huge boon in these times of rapidly escalating energy prices. A really competent low carbon energy assessor will be able to tell you which of the many energy saving solutions available will have a big impact in your building, and will also be able to provide you with a fully costed implementation plan if you want.

But not all energy assessors will give you this. Some will be more at home with the services used in a two-up two-down semi than with the complex systems in commercial buildings and so may not be able to give you good advice. Even a highly competent low carbon energy assessor will recognise that many clients focus solely on regulatory compliance and may simply quote for the work involved in achieving that.

If you want a bespoke energy assessment and report based on a thorough investigation of your building you will need to make that clear. You need to set out a clear service level agreement with your assessor, and make sure that he or she has the competence and capacity to meet your needs. It is a lot cheaper to get a good survey than to replace your boilers unnecessarily.

So how do you find a competent assessor? CIBSE Low Carbon Energy Assessors are largely experienced buildings services engineers or energy managers who have taken special training in low carbon techniques and who also meet the minimum requirements asked of other energy assessors. You can access them via the CIBSE certification website

Experience in the domestic sector is that while there was a shortage of energy assessors at first, many more were eventually encouraged to enter the field than there was work for. This drove down the price of domestic energy certificates and now tales abound of assessors being paid less than £25 per home.

Such a level of remuneration will not be sustainable in the professional sector. However we are already seeing some groups forming to offer commercial assessment at the lowest possible cost. Clients will themselves have to judge whether they want to pay the lowest possible cost, as some will inevitably wish to do or go for a value service.

Fortunately, CIBSE Low Carbon Energy Assessors are generally building services or energy professionals who will be able to offer energy certificates as part of their portfolio of services. They will not go out of business if the bulk of the EPC and DEC market goes to lowest cost providers, but they will be there as a cadre of particularly competent individuals for those who want a high quality, value service.

Getting help
There is help available to you if you are worrying about the cost of getting your energy certificate.

CIBSE is running a free initiative aimed at helping you cut energy use of your buildings called the ‘100 hours of carbon clean-up campaign’.

Pledge 100 hours of staff time to commit to carbon saving activities and you will receive: extensive list of carbon saving activities to choose from toolkits to reduce your cost of preparing for EPCs and DECs

....access to workshops and learning modules that qualify as CPD as your organisation achieves key milestones

....invitations to fun activities that support and motivate your low carbon champions and staff as they contribute to carbon reduction activities

Go to for more information on what is available and how to get the toolkit.

EPBD - EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive
Is designed 'To promote the improvement of the energy performance of buildings within the Community, taking into account outdoor climatic and local conditions, as well as indoor climate requirements and cost-effectiveness'.

DEC - Display Energy Certificate
Gives a rating A- G based on the actual energy used by the building and is valid for one year

EPC - Energy Performance Certificates
Rate A-G the intrinsic energy performance of the building based on its design. Required since 1st July for all buildings over 2,500 sq m. Renewed every 10 years. The EPC is required when a building is constructed, sold or let and must be available to potential purchasers or tenants on points of sale, lease and lease renewal.

AR - Advisory Report
Explains how the energy-efficiency of the building's operations can be improved. The AR is renewed every seven years must be available for inspection

DECs and EPCs can be produced by your in-house team who are appropriately trained and accredited. There are some differences for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

More info:

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