Monday, 5 November 2012

We Don't Have The Energy

Choosing an energy tariff is the hardest thing in the world ever. Harder than knitting, baking soufflés, achieving cold fusion, or time travel. Even the noble prime minister got confused, but then he is very thick indeed.

Energy is increasingly problematic for tenants, because of yet another emerging con perpetrated by letting agents. When new tenants move in, they try and charge for ‘contacting utility firms about the new occupant’ (no thanks, we did that.) They also try and shackle tenants to one specific supplier, with some making this a term and condition. I suspect it’s unenforceable, since the mantra is ‘choice.’ Why do they do this? Because they are paid commission – even if it’s not the best deal, a practice due to end when agents are regulated into submission.

Tenants do badly when it comes to economising on energy. Many homes, even in the upper price levels are poorly insulated (a Finnish friend was amazed at draughty Scottish homes.) Some councils run schemes which pay for loft and cavity wall insulation, which require landlord’s permission. Why would they refuse? Bizarrely, some do: they are grouchy and uncooperative, seeing improvements as an intrusion.

For private tenants, it’s as if energy saving happens over our heads: we are in extremes bequeathed money-guzzling ‘White Meter’ heating, which we cannot remove. The fact of occupants moving in and out randomly of HMO’s every six months impedes energy saving, economy or switching to lower tariffs.

The fashion for badly laid laminate floors created hurricane-force draughts, and it’s not like tenants, unsure of whether they can stay for longer than six months, will find it cost effective to pay for carpet, curtains and other measures which would make a home warmer.

Also - I am baffled: why are there not more schemes for placing solar panels on roofs (where they work – not all areas bask in the sun) wind turbines and even boreholes for underground heating? Why can’t buildings, especially social housing use natural resources?

Meanwhile, with claimants (including those on a low wage) forced to share houses until they are thirty-five, the situation can be even more fraught, with full out war on anyone co-tenant perceived as wasting energy castigated, ostracised, and asked to leave shared homes.

I know of one HMO where the self-appointed Alpha Male tenant restricted everyone to just two hours central heating in any given day. In a draughty house in Scotland during one of the worst winters on record, his word was law. The place was freezing, and fellow residents were forced to spend evenings wrapped in quilts. On the other, a former fellow housemate was found with an ancient electric heater on full during a heat-wave ‘…as it was nice having warm toes..’

The short-term nature of renting, makes tenants powerless to make choices due to the insecurity of frequent moves. How do you shop around when occupancy is transient and tenuous, and the chances of a house-meeting to sort this out is unlikely when people are working away or enduring shift work? I wish I knew, I really do.


Dazzla said...

I moved into a flat in Leeds in 2008 and was too busy (you know, with my day job and all that) to check the supplier and shop around. The bill that arrived for the SUMMER quarter - and I don't have air conditioning and hardly ever use the dishwasher - was £689. It was a 'green energy' company based at some swanky offices in Farringdon and whose green credentials were not obvious even after a lot of research.

I've never been too busy to check energy suppliers since.

RenterGirl said...

That's the problem with 'choice' in this context: it assumes everyone has equal aptitude, time, and resources (ie internet access) to choose.

space cadet said...

I will categorically never rent anywhere with storage heaters again. They can be more expensive, not less. And the idea of planning heat in advance, for tomorrow, was always lost on me. Gas, all the way (until it runs out anyway).

RenterGirl said...

They do have the advantage of allowing background heating during the day. But tenants can't have them removed, no matter how leccy they guzzle. That's the problem: tenants have no say in such a major expenditure.

Sven said...

Solar panels, heat pumps and the like are incredibly expensive for the payback. It would be far more effective for the council to send somebody round with a caulk gun, weather stripping and perhaps bulk-bought heavy curtains.

Dazzla said...


More effective, perhaps, but less profitable for the council's private industry 'partners'.

RenterGirl said...

Well, it woul dbe better if all older houses, commonly let as HMO's, were properly insulated - and that landlords were forced to comply, especially where there is funding. And yes, tenants, not landlords would see the benefit of any investment in solar panels turbines, boreholes etc. But it's going to have to happen.

Dazzla said...

I'm pretty sure landlords would see the benefits too - it'd increase the value of their collateral. It's unlikely to have an immediate effect on their revenue, though, because it seems that rents across all classes of rented housing are pretty close to their price ceiling at the moment.

RenterGirl said...

Left by a cheeky SEO'er: I've just recently moved into a flat with a friend and I just found out two days ago that I have no control over then heating whatsoever! The care taker of the block controls the heating to all the flats - meaning that either all the flats will be heated, or not. It is truly inconvenient. What's even worse is that the majority of residence are retired and have the privilege of free heating! However, it appears my flat is exempt from that... I need to move soon... Also, you would think that with all the technology available, companies would try to find ways to help their customers save energy and to protect the environment, but they are to concerned with money..

space cadet said...

What's a cheeky SEO'er?

RenterGirl said...

Search Engine Optimisation. They leave comments which relate back to their often unrelated sites. Annoying, and can contain spam/porn etc.

Dazzla said...

If you subscribe to the RSS feed for the comments, you see a lot of them, but they're mostly auto-scraped by anti-spam software.

RenterGirl said...

They usually are weeded out. But a few are from people, not spam bots.

Anonymous said...

RentGirl - Are you of African origin?

It is hard to insulate solid walls. It is very expensive. Some solid wall insulation can damage fabric of building. Buildings sould be 'breathable'

A wind turbine, is enough to power one light bulb, unless you live in the middle of windy field. Not good in towns. Plus, noisy.

Solar Panels - only work for some properties. Still too expensive. £10k to fit.

Loft Insulation - cheap and cheerful. However, cases where overhead electric wiring have over heated due to too much insulation and caused fires.

RenterGirl said...

Why do you think I am of African origin? I am not, but...why? Many places have gardens, where ground heat could be garnered. Cavity walls should at leats be insulated, and landlords/developers/managers could install insualting wall covering.

Anonymous said...

Loft insutalation has been popular and successful with my tenants. They are very happy.

With other eco-solutions, experts don't seem to agree with one another.

One housing association tried ground heat and it was a flop, with bills higher. Complicated new equipment. Works in the lab, but hopeless in real world.

These eco-experts assume you are going to walk around the house when ti is 18c. Most of my tenants would find it too cold....

There is a learning curve. Mistakes will be made. New quipment is not cheap. Space in short suppy in flats.

Cavity wall - the problem is that if it not done correctly, it can lead to cold spots in walls and it encourage mould.

When buiding new, then yes cavity wall insulation is a must as you can apply evenly.

Retrofitting is hard.

Insulating wall covering - walls have to be breathable. Too many bad products out there, which stop moisture getting out of the buiding.

RenterGirl said...

Interesting then, that many councils are paying to install cavity wall insulation.

Shoe said...

Cannot agree more, but I don't for the life of me understand why the minority condemned to perpetual dependency on the rented sector have also to be condemned to damp, cold, poor insulation and ineffective heating. There are loads of schemes for landlords to upgrade, they're just too stingy to do so and inflict crappy electric heating on tenants.

At least in the UK use of meters is widespread and properly regulated. Here in Ireland a landlord can put in a meter and resell utilities at whatever price he/she chooses - I actually left a let after the landlord decided to charge me electricity at double the market rate.

Another problem is switching utilities, here in Ireland, utilities are notoriously bad at reading meters with regularity, and frequently make a total arse of estimation of bills - a complete and utter joke meaning you pay 40 euro one bill and then 200 euro 2 months later etc. Also, sometimes meters are not accessible to tenants, and the latest arse of data protection laws means that you cannot change back to the landlords name at end of tenancy (nor can they change to you - you must now do it yourself), meaning that unless your landlord (not agent, must be landlord, which in my case is an old dear - hugely ironically, the widow of my Grandmother's first lodger!) changes on the day, you are certain to be overchanged for energy when leaving.

But there is nothing worse than cold. I lived in a place for 3 years where basically only 50% of the flat got heated, so in the winter months, I had to abandon the lit end of flat, thanks to some truly insane stupidity on the part of the landlords builder who obviously made an utter arse of the rear extension, with no insulation.

RenterGirl said...

Another good, and m planning a post bout the horro ot meters, especially White Energy meters.