How useful are the energy performance and environmental impact charts carried in property details?

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A. First, it’s worth bearing in mind that these bar charts, with their A-G ratings scored from 1 to 100, are only designed to give a quick at-a-glance summary of the full 6-page Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), which contains a lot more information, including detailed recommendations on how the ratings can be improved.

As for how useful they are, however, that is a rather complex issue. The official line, and the one supported by those at the greener end of the spectrum, is that anything which increases awareness of the energy efficiency and environmental impact of a property has got to be a good idea. You may be interested to know, for example, that the average home in Britain currently scores 46 out of a possible 100 (which equates to an E-rating) - so anything higher puts you on the side of the angels. And let’s face it, if you’re buying, and you have a choice between 2 more or less identical properties, - except that one costs £1000 to heat, and the other £500 – then this certainly ought to affect your purchase.

On the other hand, there is little evidence that this is actually happening in practice – at least, not yet. After all, there is a lot more to choosing a home than the cost of heating it. Very few buyers are going to reject a property that they like and can afford, simply because it has a “G” energy rating. Nor, in the real world, are there any guarantees that the proud new owners of such a property will immediately rush out and make the recommended improvements in order to reduce their carbon footprint.

There is also the argument that most of us already know all about the benefits of double glazing, cavity wall insulation and the like. Whether EPCs really add that much to the debate is therefore, at the very least, open to question.

All of this may of course may change in the future, as we all become (or are forced to become) more environmentally aware. But as things currently stand, it’s hard to argue that these ratings have much more than symbolic value.