Insights 30th June 2022 Building Consultancy

Looming regulatory change – along with sharp increases in energy costs – mean ‘real’ energy efficiency is now paramount and not just obtaining an EPC tick in the box, writes Hedley Jones, Head of ESG Refurbishment and Development.

Keen to implement ambitious energy efficiency targets for the future in order to meet its commitment to Net Zero emissions by 2050, the government’s 2020 Energy white paper sets out significant milestones for commercial property, several of which are now coming into clear view.

One key factor is the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) regulations, which have been amended to require an EPC of ‘B’ by 2030, with an interim target to reach an EPC of ‘C’ by 2027 And even before that, from April 2023, existing MEES rules will be extended to make it unlawful for landlords to continue to let commercial property with an EPC rating of ‘F’ or ‘G’.

For now, government estimates show that around 18% of commercial properties are in the EPC ‘F’ and ‘G’ rating brackets, with 80% to 90% of London’s stock currently rated ‘C’ or below, leaving it open to devaluation by institutional investors in the future.

Action is needed, and many landlords are taking a building-by-building approach, with the recommended starting point being collection of data and granular information about the construction and energy performance of individual buildings.

A further looming consideration is the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) move towards a potential replacement for the EPC system, with a new system likely to align with existing operational-focused rating systems such as NABERS UK.

In the meantime, improving the EPC rating of commercial property will be essential during the coming years. Payback periods from interventions can vary, however with accurate input data and realistic intervention forecasts, building consultancy teams can help with costs and practical implementation to ensure EPC uplifts deliver to the modelled forecasts, ensuring energy and cost savings kick in as soon as possible.

Here are five ways to achieve a better EPC rating:

1. Locate the data

Often, EPC assessments are carried out according to default values for a building’s age and asset class. Although this can result in cheap, quick EPC turnarounds, it often leads to inaccuracies, and ratings that only reflect a typical, notional building. To avoid this, it’s essential to track down accurate data for individual properties. It may take more effort to obtain as-built drawings, floor plans and elevations, understand the u-values, and any building improvements, but information relevant to each specific building generally means a better outcome. Creating a pack of information for the EPC assessor will immediately mean a more seamless EPC turnaround – and usually a superior result.

2. Control the glow

Replacing existing lighting with LEDs is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to improve an EPC rating. Of course, the extent of improvement will depend on what’s already in situ. Where a building has very old fluorescent lighting, replacing it with LEDS will likely mean a big win. But LEDs will be an advantage to any building. And what could rachet that up further is adding smart controls such as movement sensors so that if people are not using a particular area, the lights will dim or turn off. Similarly, around the perimeters of a floor plate, where there is enough daylight from windows, sensors can assess when it’s bright enough with natural light.

3. Get clever

In a hybrid working world, many buildings don’t require the same old seasonally adjusted patterns of heating, cooling, and ventilation, so controlling this properly is key. Some properties may have been on a similar time schedule for years. However, the technology is now available to attune this according to external predicted factors such as weather forecasts, the amount of people booked into desks, and the areas in which they are expected to congregate. It’s about making sure the heating and cooling controls are powered by intelligent building operating systems in order to understand what the building’s doing in the context of wider factors, not just operating on a basic time clock.

4. Save the hot air

At a basic level, putting in draft-proofing strips, sealing around window and door frames, and filling gaps in the fabric avoids energy leaking out through the building. A cleverer approach is to think about heat recovery. A slightly more costly option, this is very viable at the point of replacing ventilation systems. Rather than sucking warm air out of the building into the atmosphere, the heat in that air is recovered and reused back into heating systems. Mechanical ventilation heat recovery means heat is saved, and the air is still exchanged. This reduces energy demand, and with minimal leakage, less heating and cooling is required in the first place.

5. Let the sunshine

Installing solar PV panels to generate energy on site helps with EPC ratings and much more effectively than wind turbines (which often feature in EPC recommendation reports, despite not being very effective for commercial property!). Although solar PV demands a higher outlay than most of the solutions detailed here, the payback can be compelling and ever more so with the unfortunate energy price hikes.

If you would like more advice on improving the energy efficiency of buildings, their EPC ratings and mitigating the risks posed by future EPC regulations, please contact our ESG team.