By George Webb

ACROSS Scotland nearly a quarter of homes are based off the gas grid, which means they often use fuels such as heating oil or coal to heat their homes, as well as low-carbon solutions such as LPG or heat pumps. These homes, which are typically in idyllic rural locations, are notoriously difficult to treat with energy efficiency measures, both in terms of cost for the homeowner but also practically for the building type.

The Scottish Government is proposing that all homes must reach an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of C before they can be sold by 2024. While well-meaning in principle, this proposal is set to leave rural off-grid homeowners disproportionately out of pocket due to the long-standing flaws with EPCs.

For off-grid homes, the EPC methodology – which is managed by the UK Government – paradoxically promotes less sustainable fuels such as heating oil and coal. This will likely see rural homeowners forced to spend thousands more to get an EPC rating of C than they need to.

Positioned as a measure of energy efficiency, in reality, the EPC rating is actually a measure of energy cost per square metre. This already flawed methodology for homes is distorted when comparing various fuel types, especially when all alternative heating options are more expensive than natural gas. As a result of this, an identical property, built to the exact same standards, will receive a much lower EPC rating just because it happens to be off the gas grid.

Despite cross-party consensus to support more energy efficient heating solutions, this methodology also paradoxically favours higher carbon fuels, such as heating oil, instead of encouraging lower carbon heating solutions such as LPG, bioLPG or heat pumps. This is self-defeating and at odds with what the Scottish Government is hoping to achieve, especially with its ambitious 2045 Net Zero goal.

Left unaddressed, rural homeowners will be forced to disproportionately spend far more money on off-grid homes to meet this standard, when compared to an identical home on the gas grid, for no other reason than it not using natural gas. The difference may be as much as two or even three EPC ratings, not to mention the thousands of pounds of extra spend.

These unintended consequences could have a much further reach than the pockets of rural homeowners as the proposals also risk significantly devaluing off-grid rural properties. If individuals are not able to afford to, or do not want to, retrofit the property, it is expected the cost of the work to get it to Band C would be knocked off the value of the home. This could have significant repercussions for the rural, off-grid housing market.

If the Scottish Government wants this policy to be a success, fixing the EPC methodology and levelling the playing field would resolve the issue, which is a roadblock to that success. Removing the cost element from the methodology will help off-grid homeowners achieve an EPC rating that is a true measure of energy efficiency not energy cost. This will ensure homeowners are empowered to make the right decisions when looking to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.

With a higher proportion of Scots living in off gas grid properties than the UK average, it is vital that the Scottish Government commits to addressing this issue, and presses the UK Government to develop a fair EPC methodology that does not disproportionately penalise rural homeowners.

George Webb is CEO of Liquid Gas UK , the trade association for the LPG and bioLPG industry in the UK