You & Your Money, March 2010

Posted by Jill Kerby on March 01 2010 @ 09:53


I own an old house with, it seems, a very bad government energy rating. 


The windows are only single glazed, though most of them still have the original, slightly wavy Victorian glass.  The beautiful high ceilings, open fireplaces, and oak floorboards inadvertently pump cool air around the house all year round, making for rather chilly winters and comfortable summers.  The attic is properly insulated, but not ‘finished’: only half of it is floored.


This is not, by the new energy efficient standards, a “green” house.  More mauve to blue, I’d say.


However, it is located in a city neighbourhood within the Dublin canals, on a street lined with magnificent sycamores and chestnut trees. There are Luas stops at both ends of the road, two buses stop outside my door and the biggest city hospital is at the end of the block. 


If you are from Galway or Sallins, you will appreciate how this house is on high ground and is not subject to flooding or subsidence.  It is structurally sound and every tradesman who has ever walked in the door says the same thing about its foot thick walls, the arches and bay windows and the elaborate ceiling plasterwork: “They don’t make houses like this anymore”. 


My house may not have a triple A energy rating, or whatever it’s supposed to have, but it has stood solidly for over 110 years, sheltering first a British army officer and then a number of families from revolution and civil war, a global ‘Emergency’, various recessions and booms. The plumbing and heating function to my standard and this house, over the nearly 16 years of our occupancy, has suffered no lengthy power outages, or water shortages – we are lucky to share our power lines and water mains with the hospital at the end of the street.  


My heating bills certainly spike dramatically in the winter, and yes, double-glazing the windows is probably a good idea that I will get around to, but the draughts do not detract from the fact that I own a desirable, late 19th century house and that I accept it for what it is.


What I object to is being forced by the state to produce, at a monetary cost and under threat of a fine or imprisonment, an arbitrary, energy-rating certificate to a willing tenant or purchaser.


I was recently reminded of this by a tradesman who I asked to quote a price for a replacement porch door – a very green feature that was already here when we moved in – and who I know would also love to renovate the windows.  He warned me that the government might someday link property tax to energy ratings:  “The worse the rating, the higher the tax, missus.  You don’t want to be on the wrong side of that.”


If he is proved right then we are in even worse trouble.


What it means is that a group of inept, sanctimonious politicians with a green axe to grind, who hold the balance of power in one of the most incompetent governments in our history, could force higher taxes on property that neither they personally, or the state, inhabit, own, or pay to maintain, on the grounds that they don’t like the amount of energy the legal owners use (and pay for).


What, or, better still, who’s next?  Fat people? Smokers - again? How about old people with dicky hearts? They’re certainly not very energy efficient.


Meat eaters would be a very good new whipping boy for the Green world improvers, and a tax on every steak or carton of milk, a substantial source of energy revenue. Not only does meat and milk production require massive energy (and water) to get it from farm to table, but cattle are said to be one of the single, biggest contributors to global carbon-based pollution…yet the animals, land and the profits generated are exempt from direct carbon tax.  


Of course this policy of arbitrary greenification is not new. There hasn’t been a storm of protest from car drivers who are already subject to higher taxes if they drive larger engine, higher carbon emitting vehicles.  Perhaps it’s because we’ve been reduced to being a nation of whipped dogs for so long that no one can remember when – or even if – there was a time when the government was the servant of the people and not the other way around.


I neither seek nor expect any kind of state help, assistance or subsidy for owning this house or any other. I reluctantly acknowledge that my house is a taxation target that the government cannot resist.   But I am not willing to accept that it should be taxed to an extent that it cannot attract otherwise willing buyers or tenants – who would know from the moment they crossed its 110 year old threshold that heating a house like this to modern semi-d standards would always be a challenge.


Nevertheless, I will pit my beautiful old house against all the energy efficient houses that ended up under five feet of water last November, or that lost power for days on end during the Christmas cold snap or that are still without regular running water today.


There are worse problems with Ireland’s housing stock that need contending with than making every house conform to arbitrary energy ratings.  Where were energy regulators and supervisors and green do-gooders when the flood plains were being built upon, when housing estates, wholly dependent on car ownership (or two) sprang up in the middle of nowhere?


And shouldn’t those of us who live within walking, cycling or public transport distance of work, school and amenities, and where car ownership is unnecessary, not be awarded with carbon tax credits?


I’m not sure that man alone, over just 200 years out of two billion, is to blame for heating or freezing our planet.  Perhaps Mother Nature is just up to her old tricks, causing yet another climate shift with or without a nudge from us.  It certainly bothers me that the Greens and their energy police, so adamant about cause and effect, are pinning the blame on those they’ve identified as energy ‘abusers’.


So let them be fore-warned:  others may sit back and accept their mugging, but the moment an energy tax is slapped on this old house…will be the moment this old house fights back.






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