What You Should Know Before You Move to a New Home
Your home should be a sanctuary.
Out in the world, you contend with all kinds of pressure: work, commuting, chauffeuring children, relationships of all kinds. Out in the world, you’re seeing problems you can’t solve by yourself - Brexit, climate change, plastics in the ocean, air pollution.
There should be someplace that is safe - a cocoon in which you can rest and rejuvenate, secure in the knowledge that nothing can harm you when you close the door. Home.
But now you’re hearing that even your home may cause you problems. Maybe you bought a new, energy efficient flat and you’re learning that it is trapping formaldehyde inside. Or maybe you’re renting an older house that suffers from damp and mould. You’re wondering why no one told you this before you made a huge physical and financial investment in moving.
Wouldn’t you like to know if you’re future home is healthy both for you and the enviornment before you commit to buying it
You Checked Your EPC - Wasn’t That Good Enough?
Your energy performance certificate (EPC) should give you a good idea of the environmental impact of your house. That’s why Government requires it, right? Well, sort of…
An EPC is designed to tell you your home’s energy efficiency based on the quality and age of, for example, the loft insulation, boiler, hot water tank, radiators and windows. An assessor inputs data into a software programme that makes assumptions about particular elements based on the age of a house, though the assessor can override those assumptions after making observations or seeing written evidence. The software provides a grade for the property, as well as a prediction of how good the property could become if improvements were made.
EPCs have been criticised, however, because the process is non-invasive, so the inspector cannot always confirm whether insulation exists and if so, whether it is fit for purpose. They also do not take into consideration factors that affect listed buildings. Some people believe EPCs should predict energy consumption, but as so much of this is down to occupant behaviour, that is a task too complicated for a standard test.
Is an EPC useful? Certainly. It can help you understand if the energy consumption of a building will be high or low, particularly relative to other buildings. It provides an indication of the building’s impact on the environment. But it doesn't help you understand the building’s impact on you - your health and wellbeing.
There are tools available for such an assessment and Government should put them to good use. Specifically, Government should require a Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) assessment whenever a home is turned over to a new occupant.
Currently HHSRS is a measure councils use to assess if a rented home has hazards that put the renters’ health and safety at risk. If issues are identified, the council can take action against a landlord. But this rating system could provide the information we, as a nation, need to ensure all our housing is fit for purpose and move us toward a healthier indoor environment.
Why Government should mandate HHSRS for all homes
The UK has the oldest housing stock in Europe and there has not been a comprehensive assessment of the state of that housing in decades. Understanding the energy performance is helpful, but it is just one of many important elements that affect not only a building’s impact on climate, but also the occupants’ health, wellbeing, educational attainment and productivity.
Requiring only EPCs provides a limited amount of information and can lead to unintended consequences like poor indoor air quality caused by homes that are well-insulated, but not adequately ventilated. Poor indoor air quality can cause or exacerbate conditions such as asthma, allergies, and even heart disease and cancer.
HHSRS, on the other hand, is a comprehensive survey of a home. Currently, it is used by councils to assess whether a home meets health and safety standards and to hold landlords accountable if not. But there could be great benefit in adapting the model to help buyers/renters understand the state of the home they are considering and to ensure Britain’s housing stock is fit for purpose.
What does HHSRS Measure?
As opposed to the EPC, which gives an estimate of how energy efficient a building is, HHSRS assesses a number of factors including:
- Damp and mould growth
- Excess cold
- Excess heat
- Asbestos and MMF
- Carbon monoxide and fuel combustion products
- Uncombusted fuel gas
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
- Crowding and Space
- Entry by intruders
- Domestic hygiene, pests and refuge
- Food safety (state of the kitchen)
- Personal hygiene/sanitation (state of the bathroom)
- Water supply
- Falling hazards
- Electrical hazards
- Fire dangers
- Collision and entrapment
- Position and operability of amenities
- Structural collapse and falling elements
The rating system could be adapted for new builds that conform to building regulations - it would be a useful way to ensure systems in a new home are installed correctly and that design is meeting functional use.
The information the HHSRS gathers would provide Government, construction firms and builders, occupants and landlords with the information they need to ensure the habitability of all housing stock.
What can be done?
At a recent meeting with Kit Malthouse, the current Minister of Housing, through the All Party Parliamentary Group for Healthy Homes and Buildings sponsored by our sister company Matilda’s Planet, we asked the minister to consider making such a change. He said he’d have to think about it. But it will take more than just one meeting to convince Government this is the right thing to do.
Contact your MP. Send an email to the Housing Minister. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to take an action that could benefit your health and the whole nation.
Nothing will change until we, the public, demand a change. The time is NOW.
We all deserve to live in healthy homes, but until they are forced to make changes, builders will continue to use thousands of toxic chemicals in new builds. Landlords will continue to spend as little as possible to ‘maintain’ their properties for renters. Without incentives or regulatory requirement, we can be assured that we will get less value for money for our homes with each passing year.
EPCs are helping to make homes more energy efficient, but this is not enough. We need our buildings to contribute to our health - or at the very least, not make us ill, unproductive and keep our children from attaining all they can.
Changing from EPCs to HHSRS would provide the information an occupant needs to make the right choice about where to live. It would see a drastic improvement in our nation’s housing stock, which would then contribute to a healthier, more productive public.
This is a problem we can solve ourselves.
There are problems out in the world that we can’t solve. But we can have a direct affect on our indoor environment. We can take action ourselves - like having our indoor air quality tested to ensure it is safe and healthy. And we can hold our political representatives accountable, insisting they make the right decisions for the public’s good.
We all deserve to live in a sanctuary, where the air is healthy, the systems work and the structure offers no danger to our physical or mental health. A simple legislative change - from EPC to HHSRS - could make that a reality for everyone.
In the meantime, have your own home tested. And test any home you consider moving to before you buy it. The investment will pay off in a healthier, happier life.