Before the energy crisis, it often used to be the case that the best way to save money on your energy bills was by doing an energy comparison and switching suppliers. While there are currently some fixed deals to be had, the best way to reduce your bills is by using less gas and electricity.
You can scale back how much power you use by swapping energy hungry appliances for less hungry ones – for example, by using a heated airer instead of a tumble dryer. But given heating and hot water account for a big chunk of our energy costs, you can only save so much without maximising your home’s insulation.
The Great British Insulation Scheme may be able to help on this front. One of the eligibility criteria is that you must have an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of D or lower. These certificates are also important for certain key benefits, like the Warm Home Discount.
But what is an EPC, how does it work – and do you need one? Here’s a quick guide.
What is an EPC rating?
An EPC rating is basically a measure of how efficient or inefficient your home is, and therefore, how much it will cost to run. Newer properties tend to perform better than older ones – particularly those pre-dating the 1930s, as they were not fitted with cavity wall insulation as standard.
The property you live in will be rated on a scale of one to 100. These are separated into bands beginning at A (most efficient) and ending in G (least efficient). According to the Energy Saving Trust, the average rating in the UK is D.
While all certificates will show your score on a coloured scale – green being good, and red being bad – they may look different depending on when they were issued. Where you live in the UK may also have a bearing on their appearance.
But most will show you the rating your home could achieve if you make certain improvements. These recommendations may be listed elsewhere in the certificate document, along with a rough estimate of what they will cost and how much they could save you over a particular time period. You may also get a list of cost-saving alternative measures you can take, such as getting a heat pump installed.
Even if you’re renting, you may be able to make some adjustments that will improve the EPC score of your home, such as installing energy efficient light bulbs (see point 27 in our energy saving tips guide). However, for bigger projects, such as cavity wall insulation, you will need to get permission from your landlord.
Elsewhere in the document, which can be several pages long, your home’s energy performance will be drilled into in greater depth. You will get a rating out of five stars (one star being bad, and five being excellent) on each aspect of your home – from your walls to your flooring. You may also get an estimate for how much energy (in kilowatt hours – kWh) your home will need to heat itself over the course of a year, and how high its CO2 emissions are likely to be.
The certificate will be valid for 10 years from the date on which it’s issued. It means your home may already have a valid EPC rating, even if you’ve not bought one yourself.
How are EPCs measured?
An accredited EPC assessor will take into account the cost of running your heating, hot water and lighting. So your boiler, loft insulation and even the type of shower you have will contribute to your overall score.
They do not include the cost of running your home appliances, such as your fridge or TV. So, it’s likely that your home’s actual running costs will be above those set out by the EPC.
Another issue is that they measure your energy performance against the typical usage of a household in the type of property you live in. So, if you have a smaller-than-average household, your EPC rating may be slightly worse than your home’s actual performance.
Do you need an EPC?
Despite some of the weaknesses with the EPC format, they are required by law in all properties that are newly built, or are being sold or rented out. So, if you’re planning to move house or are a landlord, you will need to get hold of one.
Likewise, if you’re looking at a property to buy or rent, the estate agent, letting agent or landlord must show you the EPC. It will usually be included in the home’s brochure or in its welcome pack.
For people who are seeking to claim the £150 Warm Home Discount this winter, you may be required to present the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) – the public body that’s in charge of the benefit’s allocation – with an EPC in order to access the handout. However, it’s been pointed out that getting an EPC can cost you more than you would receive under the benefit.
Landlords were due to face a legal requirement to boost the EPC rating in their properties to C or above by 2028 or face a fine of up to £30,000. However, the Government scrapped this plan in September 2023. Instead, Rishi Sunak’s administration has said it will encourage the private rented sector to upgrade its energy efficiency wherever possible.
Some types of building are exempted from requiring an EPC. Here is a full list of where they aren’t needed:
- Places of worship
- Temporary buildings that will only be used for up to two years
- Stand-alone buildings that only have a useful floor space of up to 50 square metres (for example, garages or garden sheds)
- Industrial properties, workshops and non-residential agricultural buildings
- Holiday homes that are rented out for fewer than four months per year (or are let out under a licence to occupy)
- Listed buildings (you should seek out advice from a local council conservation officer over whether any energy efficiency work would change the building’s character)
- Residential properties that are intended to be used for less than four months a year.
How can you get an EPC?
If you’ve lived in your home for under 10 years, it may already have a valid EPC. To see if it does, people living in England, Wales and Northern Ireland should visit the Government EPC portal.
For those who live in Scotland, the system is slightly different. You should visit the Scottish Energy Performance Certificate Register.
To get hold of an EPC for a property in England, Wales and Northern Ireland you will need to find an accredited assessor. You can find them through the links above. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, your estate agent may sort this process out for you. Scotland’s property market operates in a different way, with the EPC forming part of a wider home report (essentially, a home survey). Again, this can be sorted out by your selling agent.
How much does an EPC cost?
Costs vary from assessor to assessor and can depend on the size of your property. The Homeowners Alliance says you might be charged between £60 and £120 for the certificate. If the EPC’s being sorted out on your behalf by an agent, they may include the cost in their fees.
How can you improve your EPC rating?
There are several ways in which most properties can improve their EPC rating. These include:
- Improve your loft insulation: going from no insulation to 270mm can bolster your rating by 10 -15 points.
- Installing cavity wall insulation: this can increase your rating by five to 10 points.
- Upgrade your heating system: old boilers can waste a lot of heat, so upgrading to a new model or getting a heat pump will improve your score by five to 20 points depending on the age of the existing system.
- Insulate your hot water cylinder: if you have a cylinder or hot water tank, covering it with an insulating jacket will add a few points onto your score.
- Window glazing: upping your glazing from single to double is worth several points. However, going from double to triple won’t make much difference.
- Renewable energy: adding solar panels will greatly boost your rating, with 16 solar panels adding up to 10 points. Heat pumps and roof-mounted wind turbines will have a small but positive effect.