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Think energy efficiency when renting a home

•  Comfort and keeping bills under control are key for renters
•  Check energy features of potential properties
•  Using home's EPC can be start of landlord engagement

Potential tenants don’t always apply the same level of scrutiny to their potential home as buyers. But when it comes to energy efficiency, this could be a key mistake. 

After all, you’ve still got to live there – and a cold, draughty home is not one that’s enjoyable to stay in. Plus, high energy bills could place an unwelcome burden on top of the cost of the rent.

Homes on the private rental market are more likely than any other tenure to be old and inefficient, making it even more important to go into any potential rental arrangement with eyes wide open.

energy performance certificate houses lined up

Get your hands on an EPC

Moves are being made to give tenants more say when it comes to energy efficiency – and measures are coming in to push landlords to improve leaky homes. But despite targets to improve private homes by 2020, and a deadline next month that which should mean that the worst-performing homes can’t be rented out, 7% are still in the lowest performing bands – that’s 310,000 residences.

It stands to reason that it’s important to have some knowledge about energy efficiency basics, and where you stand as a potential tenant. There are ways to empower yourself, right from the start.

Having a good knowledge of what’s on your Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) is where this empowerment begins. You’re legally entitled to have a look at it when renting, and if you’re not able to, that’s a first warning sign that this might not be the place for you.

Our step-by-step guide goes through exactly what you’ll find on each page of the EPC. In short, the certificate covers what energy efficiency level the property is at now, expected energy bill costs, and what improvements could do to improve the rating.

Once you’ve got the low-down on the A to Gs, you’re much more empowered to ask questions. And you should.

Check out energy features when you visit

There are simple things to look out for when viewing a property that will indicate the what the energy costs might be, and quite a bit of the standard advice is similar to what we’d recommend for potential buyers [LINK] when making that all-important tour round the rooms.

Insulation brings the biggest cost and comfort improvements to homes, so check what you can. While what’s on the EPC might be in place, you should see how old and worn the loft lagging is, and check gutters for blockages that can cause water damage to wall insulation.

Single-glazed windows are a potential warning sign of draughts to come – especially if they are inadequately sealed around the edges. Other sources of unwelcome blasts of cold air are from doors and pipes leading outside. Draught-proofing can easily be achieved in these cases.

It’s also a good idea to look out for things like whether the hot water cylinder, as well as the pipes between it and the boiler, are insulated. Again, these are cheap and easy ‘quick wins’ that a responsible landlord should be willing to consider at the very least – if they’re not already there.

Controls and appliances matter

Make sure to take a look at the heating system and controls. Thermostatic radiator valves and room thermostats are a good sign, as when they’re properly controlled they can keep bills down. If the controls look complex, make sure you have them explained fully if you’re planning to move in.

Where appliances are already in place, think about their age, and have a look at their energy labels where possible. It’s important to have an idea of whether they’re likely to be energy gluttons or offer more tenant-friendly costs.

Efficiency benefits landlords, too

Renters move far more often than home owners – even to a level that’s prompted concern from charities. But the financial pressures and upheaval that come with shorter stays mean it’s ever-more important to reduce your overheads.

And by demanding higher energy efficiency standards when choosing your next rental, you can help push this key issue higher up the agendas of landlords, supporting the over four million people renting privately in the UK in the long term.

It’s worth engaging with potential landlords from the start. As well as some legal pressure to take action on the properties they rent out, there’s plenty of positives in it for them if they take on even the most simple energy efficiency measures such as loft insulation, insulating the hot water tank and pipes, and draught exclusion.

Ultimately, warmer, happier tenants mean less regular turnover, reduce the possibility of more serious structural problems down the line from issues like damp, and raise the value of the property. Getting moderate costs and decent comfort from a rented home needn’t be a minefield.

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.