Regulation loopholes lead to lost opportunity for window firms

Phil Brown, European regulatory marketing manager at Pilkington UK, discusses how loopholes in new energy efficiency legislation for landlords could result in a missed opportunity for the glass and glazing sector.

From April 2018, it will be illegal for landlords to rent out a property with the lowest energy-efficiency ratings of F and G. It’s estimated that almost 10% of homes in England and Wales that are privately rented have an energy efficiency rating below E, which is approximately 400,000 homes.

On paper, this sounds like a huge opportunity for the glass and glazing sector to supply replacement energy-efficient windows. But, before you book any advertising space in Landlord Weekly, perhaps you should read the small print.

Thousands of landlords could be exempt from the new rules if they can prove that special funding is not available in their area. Landlords are only obliged to meet the minimum energy efficiency standards if they can fund work through finance packages provided to them at no cost, for example Green Deal loans or Energy Company Obligation (ECO) schemes.

The main issue is that funding is being cut and is unavailable in many parts of the country. This means more landlords will be able to prove exemption from the new rules, and as a result its impact will suffer.

Not only is this a missed opportunity for the glass and glazing sector, but it could be a blow to helping alleviate fuel poverty in the UK.

According to Eurostat, which provides statistics to the EU, in 2015 the UK had the highest proportion of people in fuel poverty out of 12 major EU counties. The UK also had the third highest share of household spend on energy costs, and the fourth highest proportion of the population living in a home in poor repair.

As fuel price increases outpace the renovation of our poorly insulated building stock, quality of life for many will not improve. Cold homes are a major contributor to poor health, such as respiratory problems and heart disease, particularly for older people and young children. To help improve wellbeing, we need a tougher approach to energy efficiency regulation, which will help to reduce energy consumption and improve people’s quality of life.

While the UK’s approach to enforcing energy efficiency regulation may have its shortfalls, it’s not an isolated problem.

A recent Glass for Europe study revealed that many EU member states are not fully implementing energy efficiency policies. This builds on an earlier study, which found that 85% of glazed areas in all EU buildings, not just residential, are either single glazed or uncoated double glazed. These findings suggest many countries are failing to realise the energy saving potential of windows.

Considering these findings, the building envelope industry, a collection of building product and materials associations that includes Glass for Europe and other trade bodies such as European Aluminium, Cefic, PU Europe and Eurima, has called for an ambitious review of the EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD). This is a policy framework that requires member states to ensure minimum levels of energy efficiency are adhered to.

Come April 2018, the good news is that there still will be some opportunities created for the glass and glazing sector. Fabricators and specifiers should note that in England, replacement windows in residential properties need to achieve a maximum U-value of 1.6 W/m²K or minimum Window Energy Rating (WER) of C. The lower the U-value is, the better the material is as a heat insulator.

We should really encourage developers and landlords to choose windows with the best possible U-value or WER to future-proof their rented property. Minimum window replacement requirements in England have not been revised since 2010, which is another missed opportunity considering the increased availability of higher performing windows on the market.

It’s time we took energy efficiency regulations more seriously.