I’m currently reviewing the content of Murton & Co’s retrofit assessments. This was prompted by news that the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) is launching a residential retrofit standard in October, which will mean members will need to work to a higher level than the PAS 2035 retrofit standard* and incorporate a Level 2 or 3 home survey standard into their retrofit assessment.

Formerly the RICS Building Survey, Level 3 is the most comprehensive survey report, highlighting the property’s condition as well as defects, and including advice on repairs and maintenance. Surveyors conducting these inspections take a particularly hands-on approach, and must investigate the attic, under the floorboards, go around opening windows and check if the toilets flush. What if the homeowner is looking at a single measure rather than more holistic energy efficiency improvements? A full-on Level 3 or even a Level 2 Home Survey may not be particularly important and too costly and time-consuming.

Murton & Co don’t do homebuyer surveys for those buying a property, but I appreciate it makes sense to include a condition element, measuring humidity levels in the attic or questioning if the roof structure is sound, to provide more clarity. In fact this is covered by PAS 2035. However, we already look at the building’s fabric, conduct an air test, carry out tests to establish U-values**, create a floor plan and provide an EPC in our retrofit assessments, based on our seven-step end-to-end process model for building performance, EDIFICE, making it a cut above PAS 2035 but less detailed than the RICS’s Level 3 home survey standard. The key element for me is to properly engage with the customer to ascertain their goals and priorities: the three Cs of Comfort, Cost and Compliance or Carbon. (Compliance would be more significant for a landlord than a homeowner who may be more concerned about carbon emissions.)

It’s a different story in the mass market where you’ve got domestic Energy Assessors doing a simple EPC and Retrofit Assessments, taking photographs and filling in forms. They’re certainly not lifting carpets up, questioning if there are visible signs of damp, and investigating causes such as if a sofa is too close to an outside wall. By launching its new standard, the RICS is acknowledging that many retrofit assessments are conducted by those who have upskilled in four days and are thrilled to be able to charge around £120 for a retrofit assessment. They may not even know the difference between solid and cavity walls, while chartered surveyors – with many years of a university course under their belt – understand building pathology, and their pricing understandably reflects this.

The quality of a home survey relies heavily on the surveyor’s qualifications and experience. They need a comprehensive understanding of the property’s location and construction – even its social and industrial heritage – along with environmental issues and legislative requirements. They’ll appreciate the fact that buildings behave differently in terms of moisture for example, those with modern cavity walls and insulation will provide more accurate damp readings than those with a sandstone wall, lime mortar, render and open paint.

Meanwhile, there are questions around the constitution of the RICS retrofit standard and its requirements. Some surveyors believe that the home survey standard itself is not fit for purpose, resulting in headlines about homebuyers who’ve been let down by surveyors, rendering their new homes worthless. Others have pointed to a lack of clarity, such as the RICS’s demand for a risk-based assessment of existing buildings, including ventilation systems, posing the question: should retrofit assessors be expected to carry out ventilation performance assessments? And if so, knowledge and understanding of Building Regulations Approved Document F is critical.

The RICS wants to reassure homebuyers that if there’s a resultant complaint after a survey carried out to its new standard that this will be directed to them rather than one of the Energy Assessor Accreditation Schemes or Trust Mark, but I’m not convinced the difference between their remits is totally clear. Perhaps more importantly, the sector is already juggling several standards which, for the average consumer, is all a bit confusing. How can they be expected to know what to request or expect?

As I ponder our own assessments, I’m conscious that we want to provide transparency and value for money, but by including too much content it will increase the cost to clients; after all, there’s only so much someone would want to pay for a report, particularly if they’re not convinced about going ahead with a retrofit. I’m very happy to consider whether our surveys fall in line with the new standard – but then perhaps we’re already there.

*PAS 2035 – the standard on how to conduct effective energy retrofits of existing buildings.
**U-values – measure of the overall rate of heat transfer through a wall, floor or roof.

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