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Construction National blog: 26/03/2012

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It had to happen! For years we have been insulating our homes into hermetically-sealed capsules in the search for more and more energy efficiency. The inevitable result when you introduce breathing beings into this capsule – particularly if you then heat it – is condensation. Now the Property Care Association (PCA) has issued a ‘White Paper’ on the increasing problem of condensation, making exactly that point.

The author of the document, PCA general manager Stephen Hodgson, said in a statement: "The Green Deal is fast approaching and within the year hundreds, and then thousands, of property owners will be able to release funds to undertake insulation and fuel saving improvements, which will be paid back from projected savings in their gas and electricity bills.

"However, with this in mind, the PCA is becoming increasingly concerned that some insulation treatments are being carried out with little or no attention to the wider implications or consequences of such treatments. This is particularly relevant in relation to ventilation, air movement and condensation."

The issue is one which has become increasingly relevant in my own home, which was built in 1998 to a then-high insulation standard. The bathroom window has to be open ‘on the latch’ every time the heating is on to avoid a small pool under the cistern. In a conversation with my next door neighbour only yesterday, we agreed that opening the living room window was impractical because of the dust and noise (it’s on a main road), so in addition to the small ventilator in the top of the frame, the only option is to have the patio doors open – or pretend it’s a sauna and beat each other with birch twigs, but we won’t go down that road.

Then there was the Budget. Hidden deep among the income tax reduction, the hike in tobacco duty and the ‘is it or isn’t it?’ mansion tax was what the RICS has described as “a missed opportunity” and the Listed Property Owners’ Club an “astonishing, and unexpected, announcement that will affect a significant number of owners of listed properties in the UK”. It was the withdrawal of VAT relief on alterations to listed properties. Not a lot to get steamed up about, you might think – unless you own a listed property.

There are, however, three things to get steamed up about with the measure. Firstly, and this is why Boy George says he did it, the owners of listed properties were getting VAT relief on such things as extensions that everybody else had to pay. Not all listed buildings are of the historic gem variety. In this area many are good examples of weavers’ cottages and the like and are normal family homes. In fact I reckon most people didn’t know you could extend a listed building.

Secondly, and this is where LPOC have expressed legitimate concern, it could deter people from purchasing the kind of listed building I just mentioned, which will then fall into disrepair. Or people may just not carry out repairs.

Thirdly, and this is RICS’s “missed opportunity”, there was the possibility of setting a 5% VAT rate on ALL home repair, maintenance and improvement work.

According to the RICS Budget response: “Research shows that this would have created an extra 26,650 jobs in the construction sector in 2012 and a total economic stimulus of around £1.7bn in 2012 alone. Instead, this will create further barriers to the improvement of housing stock and job creation in the sector.”

Seems like the Chancellor has upset just about everybody. The good news for him, though, is that hardly anybody noticed.

Chris Stokes