Chilly English Apartments Due for an Upgrade

Likely chilly council flats near Whitechapel. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

But perhaps I could read modern British fiction and catch a similar chill. According to the Guardian and the 2008 English House Condition survey, 21 percent of rented homes were terribly inefficient, receiving the two lowest efficiency ratings: F and G. (Drafty flats!) Sixty-eight percent of cavity walls had no insulation. And 45 percent of loft apartments had no insulation, or insulation thinner than 100 millimeters. (Frozen garrets!)

Waste like that makes it pretty difficult for England to meet its emissions reductions goals, so the government is introducing new measures in its Energy Bill that compel private landlords to upgrade their most inefficient properties. By 2015, tenants who request basic energy upgrades like more efficient windows or insulation should be able to get them. Authorities who identify particularly poor performing flats can also compel landlords to make upgrades. Owners who refuse to comply can get hit with a hefty fine.

These tightened regulations will come before parliament in December as part of a "green deal" that also includes personalized home energy audits and tips on retrofits for homeowners. Interestingly, the funding for the private home upgrades is public. Chain stores and supermarkets (like Marks & Spencers), as well as local councils will loan homeowners the funds for the upfront improvements. Over 20 years, the expense should be repaid through bill savings.

I'm curious about what mechanisms are (possibly) already in place to keep landlords from simply hiking up their rents, but I do like this quote from energy and climate change secretary Chris Huhne, who announced the deal yesterday: "The Green Deal's about making people feel as warm as toast in their homes. I want Britain to say goodbye forever to leaky lofts and chilly draughts. At a time of increasing gas prices, energy efficiency is a no-brainer." It seems the energy secretary has also read a chilly novel or two -- and perhaps in a not-so-cozy flat.