Thursday

2nd Feb 2023

Energy savings label under fire in the Netherlands

  • Many home-owners of the Dutch town Enkhuizen will have received the lowest grade in a preliminary energy label. (Photo: Peter Teffer)

Auk Kootstra has done a lot to make his century-old house in the northwestern Dutch town of Enkhuizen more energy-efficient.

He insulated the floor, the cavity walls, most of the roof and put in double glazing windows. Last year, Kootstra installed a new boiler.

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  • Some of Enkhuizen's houses date back centuries (Photo: Peter Teffer)

But in recent letter from the Dutch government, he was told that his house would preliminarily be assigned energy label G – the worst on a seven-letter energy efficiency scale .

All Dutch home-owners were sent a preliminary energy label in January and February.

The letters were sent to inform citizens of just-in-force EU rules, but critics say the government did not implement them properly. And many home-owners have been taken aback by their bad grade – even if it is only an initial assessment.

Kootstra, a real estate agent, said he is aware of many examples of houses in Enkhuizen, a city of 18,000 inhabitants, receiving the lowest rating. Enkhuizen, with its picturesque town centre, has some houses dating back to the sixteenth century.

“They only looked at the construction date of the house, which in my case is 1913”, Kootstra told this website, adding that the method of assigning preliminary labels is “worthless”.

Since 1 January 2015, Dutch home-owners wanting to sell their house, are obliged to obtain and advertise a final energy label, or risk receiving a fine of up to €405.

The process of getting a final energy label, which is done completely online, has also been heavily criticised.

Fraud-prone system?

“The system is sensitive to fraud”, Hester Jansen, another Enkhuizen-based real estate agent, told this website.

House-owners may upload proof of efforts to increase energy savings, like photos or receipts, which will then be weighed by experts who then give the house a final energy label. However, these experts do not actually visit the house they assess.

“You could upload photos of your neighbours' double glazing as if they were your own, and no one will visit you to check”, said Jansen.

Members of the Dutch parliament have also expressed their worries about the possibility for fraud.

Housing minister Stef Blok countered these worries in a letter to parliament in early February.

He wrote that any wrong information can be easily detected when a potential buyer visits a house. He added that the current system was also chosen to keep the application for an energy label relatively simple.

But others remain critical.

“The European rules are very clear: you need to use external advisors to show how energy-efficient a house has become”, Dutch green MEP Bas Eickhout recently told Dutch tv.

Directive

The rules for information on the energy performance of houses are laid down in the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, which was introduced in 2002, and revised in 2010.

The revised law obliges EU member states to sanction the sellers of houses without an energy label.

Eickhout has asked the European Commission if the Netherlands has correctly implemented the 2010 directive, “since the certification is neither carried out in an independent manner nor by qualified and/or accredited experts”.

If the Netherlands has not correctly implemented the directive, the commission can start an infringement procedure to force it to change the law.

Recently, the European Commission announced in a strategy paper on energy it would use “all available policy instruments” to enforce “existing energy and related legislation”.

The paper also noted that 75 percent of the EU's housing stock is energy inefficient.

“Buildings have huge potential for energy efficiency gains. Retrofitting existing buildings to make them energy efficient and making full use of sustainable space heating and cooling will reduce the EU's energy import bills, reinforce energy security and cut energy costs for households and businesses.”

The cost factor is the most compelling argument for those actually living in the buildings.

“An energy label is too abstract”, said Jansen. “But people are becoming more energy-aware.”

“People ask how old the boiler is, whether there is single or double glazing”, added Kootstra.

But the energy label still plays only a small role in a buyer's decision.

According to Jansen, most of her clients selling a house apply for a final energy label only after the house has already been sold. Not to inform the buyer – since he or she has already made the decision to buy – but because the rules tell them to.

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