19 million homeowners will have to cover Net Zero re-modification costs of up to £18,000 — after ministers scrapped green grant schemes.

Thirty-one years ago this week, Margaret Thatcher im-posed the poll tax on England, putting huge financial pressure on blameless low-income households.

But the fallout from that policy earthquake could prove modest compared with the hammering the current Government seems determined to inflict on homeowners as part of its zealous commitment to reach ‘net-zero’ carbon emissions by 2050.

Yesterday the Government set itself a target of replacing 600,000 domestic boilers with heat pumps every year by 2028 to help ‘decarbonise’ home heating and reduce Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions.

By 2035, it has proposed, all homes in Britain should achieve a ‘C’ rating for energy performance. Only ten million of Britain’s 29 million homes are hitting this standard

Homeowners will have to cover the required re-modification costs of up to £18,000 themselves — after ministers scrapped grant schemes.

But shockingly, if you find yourself unable to afford these green-energy improvements, you could be forbidden from selling your home — or even banned from re-mortgaging it, possibly leading to your home being repossessed. 

Expensive

So much for the ‘property-owning democracy’ that politicians like to shout about. Heat pumps are electric-powered heating systems that work like fridges or air-conditioning units — except that they pump heat towards, rather than away from, the target location.

They can be very effective and do make sense when fitted in a new home. But forcing them into existing properties comes with a very big problem: they are expensive.

According to energy advice organisation Energy Saving Trust, a typical heat pump system costs between £9,000 and £11,000, several times the cost of a new gas boiler.

To make matters even worse, heat pumps only work efficiently at relatively low temperatures. While a traditional gas boiler heating system pumps water around radiators at 60c (140f), a heat pump operates at ten degrees lower.

So if you swap your gas boiler for a heat pump you may have to replace all your radiators with larger ones — and even fit expensive underfloor heating and improved insulation — just to heat your home. While some green technologies have come down sharply in price over recent years, the same doesn’t seem to be true of heat pumps. Just over a decade ago I had a couple of quotes to install an air-source heat pump — and £10,000 was the price then, as now.

Heat pumps are only the start of the Government’s drive for us to decarbonise our homes — whatever the cost to our pockets — to hit its self-imposed, legally-binding target of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

By 2035, it has proposed, all homes in Britain should achieve a ‘C’ rating for energy performance. Only ten million of Britain’s 29 million homes are hitting this standard.

For some newer properties, reaching that standard will be a case of minor improvements such as replacing light fittings to accept LED bulbs, increasing the depth of loft insulation or installing inexpensive cavity-wall insulation.

The real problems will arise in the 7.8 million homes, mostly built before the 1930s, that have solid walls. It will be virtually impossible for these to reach a ‘C’ rating unless the walls are fitted with insulation either internally or externally.

According to Energy Saving Trust, the first option would cost £8,200 for a modest three-bedroom semi — and the latter option £10,000.

In other words, if you fit a heat pump and solid wall insulation in the hope of raising your home to the required ‘C’ rating, you won’t get much change out of £20,000.

And, remarkably, even that won’t necessarily do the job. The trouble with Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) — mandatory for anyone selling or renting since 2007 — is that they are very unflattering, and also very inconsistent, when measuring the energy performance of old houses.

It’s something I know all too well because I own a home with solid walls. When I had two EPCs done for my house in the space of a year, the first gave me an ‘E’ rating.

But after I improved the loft insulation and upgraded the double-glazing in some windows, the second EPC, gallingly, downgraded me to an ‘F’.

What rating you are awarded seems to depend on the mood of the person doing the test —nothing more than a crude estimate of energy usage.

Livelihoods

Yet these ratings will have huge implications. The Government has already banned the letting of homes with an energy rating below ‘E’.

And by 2028, it has proposed to ban the letting of any property below a ‘C’ rating — which could affect the livelihoods of thousands of buy-to-let investors, as well as millions of normal homeowners.

There is, at present, a limit of £3,500 that property-owners are expected to spend to bring their homes up to standard — above that level an exemption applies. But the exemption only lasts five years, after which owners will be expected to shell out all over again.

So what are you supposed to do if you need to sell but can’t afford the improvements?

To make it worse, the Climate Change Committee, which advises the Government on how to reach its zero-carbon target, also wants to stop the sale of all homes with a rating lower than C by 2028, and to stop all mortgage lending on such properties by 2033.

If this were to come into force, we would find ourselves in a ridiculous situation where, if someone couldn’t afford insulation, not only would they not be able sell their property, they wouldn’t be able to re-mortgage — leaving the only other outcome of repossession.

The Government did have a scheme, the Green Homes Grant, which subsidised energy improvements for low-income homeowners by up to £10,000. But it closed last week.

So these huge costs look set to hit ordinary homeowners. And what’s worse, it seems wealthy owners of period mansions will be let off.

EPCs are mandatory for bog-standard two-up, two-down Victorian homes, and inter-war semis, in which huge numbers of people live. Yet listed buildings, like the sprawling Suffolk home of Climate Change Committee chair Lord Deben, have been exempt since 2013.

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April 8, 2021 at 05:58AM