The university student population in Wales increases every year, with 145,175 students enrolled in Welsh higher education providers in the 2020/21 school year. With students making up a large part of the housing, it’s important to look at what landlords are doing to ensure that these properties are energy efficient. Housing accounts for 40% of total carbon emissions in the UK, and is a place to start in the pathway to becoming net zero in Wales. EPC ratings are the standard measurement for making sure that homes and buildings are energy efficient, but are those eco-conscious students able to rent the more energy efficient houses? 

Renting Smarter: Student Housing and Energy Efficiency

Overview: Energy prices are creating growing fuel poverty. Young people see the impact of climate change and want a better future. Can student renters make a more informed choice on their carbon footprint when renting?  I’m Hannah Richardson, TPAS Cymru’s Net Zero Engagement officer, and this is part of our ‘Rent Smarter’ series 

Let's start with 2 facts: 

1.    The university student population in Wales is significant, with 145,175 students enrolled in Welsh higher education providers  

2.    A Welsh government commissioned report in 2018 suggested 21% of the nation's carbon emissions came from housing.

Therefore, it’s important that private landlords ensure that properties are energy efficient. The housing sector uses an ‘EPC rating score’ as the standard measurement for making sure that homes and buildings are energy efficient. EPC grades are not without flaws, but are eco-conscious students able to find and rent more energy-efficient houses?  

What is an EPC rating? 

An Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) shows the energy efficiency of a property and is measured from an A-G scale rating, A being the most energy efficient and G being the least. In the Private Renting Sector (PRS) the minimum standard for letting is E, but landlords will have to get to C by 2035 under Welsh law under slow step change to achieving net-zero carbon emissions. It is a requirement to have an up-to-date EPC in order to rent a property. They are evaluated by independent energy assessors. Though some properties could improve their EPC rating by simply installing a new boiler or better windows, or insulation, older properties could require significant improvement and work.  

Curious about my own EPC rating, I was able to find it through the website after typing in my postcode, my own property is a D rating (not great). While it’s great to have this information on the website, not all properties in my flat building were listed, and not all properties on my street were up to date, leaving the information useless if not kept updated.

Student housing

Students typically live in student halls the first year of their university experience, before moving into privately rented homes. There are letting agencies dedicated solely to rent to students, making finding a decent house a task for students.  

Can students make better environmental choices by choosing higher EPC rating? 

Cardiff University has guides & resources on their website for students looking to rent privately, with tips for house hunting and links to their own letting agency, Cardiff Student Letting. Included in their house hunting tips are numbers of what an average rent in a house is, which area of the city is most student populated (Cathays and Roath) and basics about what a property should include (window and door locks). There is no mention of how to look at the EPC rating of a property, and when clicking on a hyperlink labelled ‘Energy Performance Certificates,’ it led to an expired webpage. 

The Cardiff Student Letting website has information on EPC ratings for each property available to let, though the only 2 properties currently available said that they were both ‘awaiting value’ in terms of their EPC rating, with no note on what the EPC rating of the property used to be or if it is currently up to code. For the eco-conscious student, this can be an issue, as there is no straightforward way to live in a lower carbon, more energy efficient home during their university career. Additionally, while there is a chart for EPC ratings on the website, there is no clear explanation of what an EPC rating is or what it means for their landlord and property. 

Looking at the commonly used student agencies Keylet, Kingstons Residential, and CPS Homes, all three are like Cardiff Student Letting in that they do not have an option to search for a property based on its EPC rating. The three agencies have the current EPC rating of the properties in the detail of each listing, ranging from a rating of B to a D. A student can search for a property with often 40 filters such as ‘balcony ‘or ‘big pieces of land surrounding it (??)’, yet a search for an EPC rated property of at least a C proves impossible. (Note: You also can’t filter on accessibility/disabled adaptations, but that is another article!) 

Wanting to know about the information they have access to in their databases, I called Kingstons Residential to ask about getting a list of properties for rent with an EPC rating of C or higher. I was told quite bluntly that she did not have access to that sort of information, and that I’d have to go through each property myself and check the EPC rating in the details. Is that the message to students looking for a more energy and financially efficient property, give up or put in the effort to search manually in an inefficient way?  

Why is this important? 

We need to lower the carbon footprint of homes. There are big benefits to working towards net zero in our  home. Not only is it better for tenant’s wallets, but it’s better for the environment and a sure way to lower carbon emissions.  

So, what do different EPC rating mean financially?

It's hard to give the cost savings of living in a more energy efficient house as energy prices are in flux and are increased rapidly and will continue to rise in October. It also depends on the size of your home.  What we all can agree on is that the cost difference will keep getting bigger for the moment. 

For a student HMO with 4- 6 students sharing, the cost difference between an EPC E and EPC C could well be over £1,000 pa now. If you live in a ‘C’ or above, that adds up to some great nights out you could have, instead of giving your money to an energy supplier because you landlord owns an energy inefficient property.   We need renters to call out energy inefficient landlords and demand better. 

Wales has ambitious plans to reach net-zero carbon emission goals, and as such, must include private renting sector such as students' accommodation in the conversation. We want renters to be able to make an informed decision.  This drives up standards. Agencies and landlords need to make information on EPC ratings more accessible on their website search information and in their accommodation tours, while also doing what they can to improve their ratings and pushing to display good ratings. Policy makers in Wales need to lead the path to net zero, and that starts with transparency and more informed choices.  

What needs to change:

  1. Renters need informed choices. Food manufactures are required to list ingredients and additives to avoid hidden nasties.  Restaurants may need to list calories in future.  Banks and insurance providers are heavily regulated and are required by law to warn consumers of risks and hidden costs.  Isn’t a low EPC rating a hidden cost of renting?  Financially and environmentally. Should properties with a rating below C come with a required cost warning?  
  2. Create an ability to search/filter on energy efficiency. If people don’t understand EPC, then why not let the engines covert to 5 stars like hotels. A = 5 star, C = 3 star and E is 1 star – anything under E is zero rated as its unlettable.  
  3. Speed up the Landlord requirement for higher standards.  In the Private Renting Sector (PRS) the minimum standard for letting is E, but landlords will have to get to C by 2035 under Welsh law. That’s 13 years away. Welsh Government and the wider world have declared climate emergency now. We need to see that policy makers to bring that timescale earlier.  

Do you agree?  Disagree? Let me know on Twitter at @hannahTPASCymru or through email [email protected]

Question for those of you who have experienced social housing lettings – what is your experience, is it clear?

What about other renters? I plan to have a look a wider private rental market.  Can a family looking for long term rental property make an informed choice about energy efficiency of a home they may want to live in for many years?  They need to be aware of the difference the EPC would make to their wallet and carbon footprint. Will I be able to any find good options? 

About Hannah
Hannah is the Net Zero Engagement Officer at TPAS Cymru and a private renter in Roath. In the past, Hannah has rented in the heavily student populated neighbourhood of Cathays in Cardiff and has student rental experience in both Wales and California, allowing her to see the realities of renting while being an eco-conscious person. Hannah’s interested in looking at how to tackle a pathway to net zero carbon emissions from a housing perspective.