BER certs are vital but don't tell the full energy story
When buying or renting it pays to look beyond the property’s Building Energy Rating
The BER (Building Energy Rating) serves as a useful indication for consumers of the likely running costs of a property they are thinking of buying or renting.
But consumers should be aware that a property’s rating is not the full story, it is the result of a visual test and is based on a number of assumptions. The rating tells you how well a property should perform if it is well constructed but it doesn’t actually examine the fabric of a building, look at the quality of the insulation or the level of air tightness .
Delve deeper into the fabric of the building, and the method of heating it, and you may find problems that a BER test will not have detected that will add to the running costs and not be reflected in the rating.
“In my experience a well constructed D-rated building can in some cases outperform a badly built A-rated one,” says Brian Sweeney of Evolved Energy Solutions. There is no requirement in a BER inspection to test air tightness or examine the quality of the insulation by drilling holes in the wall or using thermal imaging.
“Air tightness and well-installed insulation are as important as each other when it comes to energy efficiency so you can have a well insulated house with a good BER rating but if it’s draughty and poorly constructed, it can undo all the good work.
He says a BER is “ a great initial survey” but an inspector does not look at how well the property was built.
“If they go up to the attic and see the required amount of insulation, they may make assumptions that the attic is properly insulated and wont have examined whether there are gaps in it .”
His advice for anyone thinking of buying a property is to get a full energy assessment. This would look at the condition of the heating system, whether the pipework was professionally installed and if the electrics are in good condition. Also included would be a thermal imaging test of the insulation using cameras which can detect breaks, gaps or degradation. An air tightness test will measure any leakage of energy. Sweeney’s firm charges about €450 for such an assessment.
Jeff Colley, editor of Passive House + magazine says it is important to remind people that the BER is a catch-all test.
“An energy rating is an important and useful shorthand tool as long as you know what to look for, it is not going to be indicative of building quality.”
He says the SEAI didn’t go for a more invasive test because “if BER inspectors were drilling holes in people’s walls and floors, every inspector would have to carry cans of paint in their cars that matches the paintwork in the house, so it’s not really practical.”
He says a high rating does not necessarily mean a comfortable house.
“If you put a big enough photovoltaic solar panel beside a beehive cell in the Skelligs it could probably get an A rating because it is generating so much energy but it doesn’t mean it would be comfortable to live in.”
Equally the leaky house on top of the hill will be less comfortable than the sheltered site in a leafy suburb, regardless of BER.