Saturday, 17 December 2011

Xmas Fashion Tips

The fashion pages are full of inspiring tips on what to wear when hosting parties. It’s an annual quandary: the little black dress? Tuxedo with comedy tie and challenging but picturesque socks? Is that strapless gown too much?

I solved my festive dress dilemma some time back. Like many renters, I will greet my guests wearing a cocoon of fleece, under a blanket, with two pairs of socks, fingerless gloves and a scarf. It just so now!

The last time I set off for the arctic waste known as my kitchen, I advised my companions that: ‘I might be gone for some time.’ Rented homes are cold - well, I say cold, when I actually mean freezing: wintry, damp and draughty. They don’t call those chocolate biscuits penguins for nothing, you know.

One friend spent last winter huddled in an alcove, wrapped in his duvet in order to keep working. Other DIY attempts at insulation focus on windows: plasticine, aluminium foil, plastic sealant, expanding foam and blankets nailed to hang behind curtains etc. One theory advocates clingfilm on window-panes tightened with heat from hairdryers, which might end badly.

The problem is that landlords have no incentive to make homes in the frozen north well-insulated, or even adequately heated: they don’t pay the bills, so why would they care? I’ve lived in flats where I could see daylight between the window-frame and wall, where water seeped in through the rotting wood leaving a sad grey pool on the floor (the landlord knew – he had once lived there.)

There are ancient storage heaters which keep the place toasty, but pump money up into the atmosphere, or no heating at all, so we wander around like Michelin people wearing layers of jumpers, thermals and tights (guys too.) I am even tempted to buy a balaclava helmet, but want to retain my one remaining shred of dignity.

Something is very wrong when homes are only warm when the heating is pumping; insulation should retain the heat, and I shouldn’t start to shiver the moment the heating switches off. I don’t even have thick curtains – all landlords now put in cold thin blinds, not generous heat conserving textiles. I’m not sure why – fashion I suppose.

Friends from Scandinavia venture over to the UK and deride our hapless weather survival strategies: ‘Call that snow? We have that in the summer in Finland.’ But then, they do have economical communal heating from green sources, thick insulation and triple glazing. Ooh – and a blazing log fire.

Landlords must be legally obliged to maintain insulation. They must provide heating tenants can afford to use, especially from geo-thermal boreholes, wind-power turbines where applicable and by effective insulation, as they won’t act out of kindness or to save the planet. Legislation is required, because as I sit here wearing gloves, wrapped in a fleece burkha, my nose is still cold. Also – I have to be rolled along the floor into the kitchen to make a cup of tea. It’s no way to live.


Lee said...

This problem is not exclusive to the frozen wastelands of the north. I've recently moved from a cold/damp terrace in east London and like your friend, my wife also spent winters wrapped in a duvet when working from home.

Fred Smith said...

I think the best heating is an efficient condensing gas boiler - geothermal boreholes aren't easy to install in most flats.

RenterGirl said...

Lee: you're right of course, by North - I mean Northern Europe. What next - duvets with sleeves, like 'Onesies' ie fleece blankets with sleeves.

Fred: I know, but in buildings that are 'developments' that is, low or hight rise blocks, surely there must be a way to put solar panels/turbines/boreholes in place to at least heat communal areas.

LinniR said...

Rentergirl, I know it's too late for you to do this now as you are already in, but next time you choose a flat INSIST on seeing the EPC before you choose. If the EPC rating is below D, then just say no. Unless it's a very small property, you probably won't be able to afford to heat it.
This is why the law says you are entitled to see the EPC before you choose, but not all landlords/letting agents go by the rules. They know that the homes they offer are poorly rated, and leak heat, just as you have described.
There are moves afoot to put this right - the Energy Act allows for the prohibition of renting out homes will worse ratings than E - but this isn't going to come in until 2018 at the earliest.
Cold comfort for renters, sad to say.

RenterGirl said...

You are right Linni. But just try and see it: especially during that precarious time when moving. It is impossible to ask strongly - worse still 'demand' to see anything, even if you are entitled to view the document/certificate.

Emma said...

I've always asked to see the EPC and it's very, very rare that you'll ever find a rental that's rated above an E - as rentergirl says, there's no real incentive for landlords to provide energy efficient properties and when you're moving, there's rarely time to shop around that much. Remember too that the rating is based partly on fairly superficial things like the number of energy saving lightbulbs in the property - so you might have gaps around the windows but at least you'll save money on lighting!

RenterGirl said...

That's the problem. They now have a certificate to prove how inefficiently insulated the home is. But no compulsion to do anything about it.

Solomon Hughes said...

I 100% agree it is the landlords responsibility to have proper insulation , there should be proper regulation and legislation etc. However, on "One theory advocates clingfilm on window-panes tightened with heat from hairdryers, which might end badly." - actually, there is quite a good temorary stopgap here:- don't use clingfilm, but the various temporary plastic double glazing products, which are like clingfilm-and-tape, but properly made, are actualy quite good. When we were living in a housing association place with huge leaky windows, we found these pretty effective - you have to be careful, because windows with this film covering cannot be opened, so be careful to leave some windows that open un-befilmed. 3m window insulator kit or Warmseal seem to be both still available. - I'm not suggesting a £6-00 kit involving tape and a hardryer is an alternative to state investmetn in social housing and regulation of the buy-to-letters, but it helps !

RenterGirl said...

Agreed that some of the kits are good. But people - use that. Not clingfilm!

LinniR said...

Emma, Rentergirl, so sorry you've had problems getting letting agents and landlords to show you the EPC. But the law is on your side - you are entitled to see it. If they are reluctant to show it to you, it may be because the landlord hasn't paid to have one done. Since they only cost about £50, if he isn't prepare to spend that much, he won't be keen on paying for any other maintenance work. So be warned!
Emma - you said 'Remember too that the rating is based partly on fairly superficial things like the number of energy saving lightbulbs in the property'. I do know a bit about the rating as I was heavily involved in it's development. If there are gaps around the windows you should be able to see them, but you can't see the hidden energy efficiency (eg insulation inside the walls). The EPC helps you by informing you of aspects of the property's efficiency that a tenant can't be expected to know about.