Age discrimination against our heritage homes

We have an immensely diverse range of housing stock within the UK. In our rural villages, 40% of all homes were built before 1919, with some dating back many centuries. The fact they are still here and valued today is testament to both their architecture and their traditional construction from solid stone and brick. These are highly sought after properties and an important part of our cultural heritage.

However, thousands of these period properties spread across our Great British countryside are being failed by flawed government policy which inaccurately assesses their energy performance, and proposes potentially damaging ‘improvements’ in the name of energy efficiency. Without urgent reform, thousands of homeowners will continue to be signposted towards retrofit measures that are either inappropriate or outright harmful to the structure and character of the building.

An Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) is required for all properties when built, sold or let They are rated on a scale of A-G, with Band A the most efficient. Most residential properties in the UK achieve a band D-E rating but older ones in predominantly rural areas are more likely to fall within the lower F-G bracket due to the nature of their construction and the methodology which rates them.

The EPC rates the energy performance of the property and recommends improvements but fails to accurately reflect the energy efficiency of traditionally built homes. The CLA wants to see the methodology used urgently reformed so it does not continue to discriminate against old rural properties. We’d all like make our homes warmer but we must ensure homeowners are channelling the right kind of investment on the right type of improvements.

Some of the energy efficiency improvements being recommended on the EPC are unsuited to properties built using traditional construction techniques. These buildings were designed to be ‘breathable’ and allow moisture to pass through the structure. The effect of modern insulation on these properties could be similar to wrapping fruit in impermeable plastic, the moisture cannot escape, moisture builds up and the contents starts to rot. This is particularly worrying for listed buildings and those within conservation areas.

The Government has created a world of confusion by being seemingly unable to provide a simple answer to the simple question of whether listed buildings and those within conservation areas require an EPC or not, despite explicitly stating they did not require them in 2012. There is limited scope for improvements that would not harm or change the character of these properties as their status restricts what can be done to them and any significant change will require the consent of the Local Authority.

We have called on the Government to remove all confusion over the exemption of listed buildings and those in conservation areas. It should be common sense that lumping such treasured assets in with all other buildings under this policy is asking for trouble. As a Peer said in the House of Lords on this subject, “There is only so much you can do to improve a 16th Century Bastle House.”

ReadThe Retrofit-Up: How Government energy policy is failing older houses across the British countryside at www.cla.org.uk

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