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Differing values

Tim Mathias, of Stirling Consulting in Scotland, questions whether the provision of Energy Performance Certificates in Scotland is for the benefit of the assessors or the scheme’s operators

The process of undertaking Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) mainly centres on the free issued programme called the Simplified Building Energy Model (SBEM). The Building Research Establishment (BRE), on which our experience is based, operates both a training and Accreditation of Prior Experimental Learning (APEL) scheme. It is a concern, therefore, that despite BRE’s efforts to elevate standards, individuals have been trained with no prior professional experience or gained related professional standards.

There is a real danger that clients will not differentiate between experienced high quality engineers and, for wont of a better term, the opportunists.

With the Scottish Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) market rates so depressed, it is difficult to understand how any quality can be provided. To take part in this marketplace even high quality consultants will not have adequate time to spend on investigation and research, and will inevitably have to fall back on their experience and training. 

For example, nowhere is a potential shortfall more apparent than during a site visitation. At this stage the assessor will consider the methods of construction employed. Now astute readers will comment that unless additional information is supplied to the contrary a visual inspection would not confirm, for example, the presence, or lack of, cavity insulation.

An assessor lacking information, or experience, could revert to worst conditions’ or program default values with a compromise in results. Record drawing(s) typically relate to floor plans thereby causing the adoption of scaling methods to determine elevation(s) - also, with the risk of inaccuracies.

Without proper professional education and experience how will any rational assessment take place, and how will the results be meaningful?

Tim Mathias, Stirling Consulting

If a client required an engineer to carry out a structural survey it is unlikely they would be happy with someone with a background in an unrelated field, but this is a likely scenario with an EPC assessment; the client may end up with a so-called “assessor” who has no professional training or experience in building construction, measurement or services engineering.

The real misfortune is that EPCs are important. There are numerous examples of their benefits in emission reductions. No doubt those that devised or operate the scheme would argue that a system, ignoring the generation of inconsistent results, is better than one shaped on indifference.

However, it cannot be argued that these inconsistencies are potential timebombs which will lay dormant for the maximum period of certification before being recognised. Given that the recipients of this whole process are utilising the results as a means of investment planning, revenue reduction and compliance with stated government objectives it must be recognised that the EPC process could fail as a foundation stone for future improvement.

If this occurs there may be significant claims made against professional indemnity insurance (where PI insurances are competent and based on a diligent evaluation of the assessor’s ability to execute the service expertly). Yet perhaps this is of less importance than the overall effect on the profession’s credibility.

The most alarming aspect of the whole process is the remuneration currently being afforded some non-domestic applications as low as 20p/m². The question that has to be asked is, how much time can a professional engineer afford with rates such as those quoted and if 20p/m² will not buy enough of a professional engineer’s time to carry out an EPC assessment how are EPCs being prepared and completed - and what is the value and competence of the professed assessor?