* Prices may differ from that shown
As you may have read here, I was made redundant just over a year ago. At my age though, I looked on this as a welcome opportunity to retire. To be honest I had had enough of the computer industry after 37 years and I really didn't want to return to my first career in insurance, even though I had retained my insurance professional qualifications. It bored me to tears then and I can't imagine it's improved in the intervening years.
So, a welcome chance to get to grips with all those jobs I had been putting off for ages, not the least of which was the garden. It really did need serious attention, and it got it. There was also the issue of installing a proper home computer network (you all surely know my feelings about wireless by now). Also I needed to sort out some seriously dodgy mains wiring I had discovered.
The problem was though, that after about six months I found I'd done more or less everything I wanted to do and, apart from spending more and more time on Dooyoo (not an unwelcome way of spending time you understand!), I really didn't have much else to do other than watch the box in the corner.
My wife was still working (still is) and had (has) no plans to retire. I did my bit around the house, hoovering, cleaning, washing, drying, ironing... It just wasn't enough though. I really needed to prove to myself that there was still life in the old dog and that that old dog really could learn new tricks.
I have always been interested in DIY as you will probably have gathered. I have done quite a lot around our house since we moved here back in the mid 90s. Most especially I have been seeking ways in which to reduce our energy bills, and not just by making sure that we are signed up with a supplier offering the best deal. I have increased the amount of insulation on the lofts and have been replacing light bulbs with low energy alternatives. We have also had double glazing installed but that, of course, I didn't do myself.
It was my wife who spotted the advert in the local paper. The Energy Assessor College (EAC) in Reading was advertising courses to train suitable people to become Domestic Energy Assessors (DEA). Claims were made for a potentially very lucrative career. It sounded interesting. It was at least worth finding out more. So, as it has been said that everyone should have three careers in their lifetime, I applied for an interview, in order to find out what it was all about.
A DEA produces the Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) that are a mandatory requirement, at that time for houses and flats put up for sale and now also houses and flats for rent. They are a required component of the infamous HIPS packs. In order to produce an EPC the DEA has to carry out a detailed survey of the property in order to take precise measurements of its size and to identify features that will affect the energy efficiency, such as the type of heating and how it is controlled, insulation installed, glazing systems and so on.
The EPC rates the property according to the amount of energy required in order to make the property habitable and identifies the CO2 impact on the environment. The CO2 factor can be directly affected by the energy used by the systems installed, such as gas boilers, or indirectly, such as is produced by electricity generating power stations, in order to provide the electricity used in the house. The EPC also lists a range of improvements that the property owner can consider carrying out and identifies the amount of improvement each will make compared with the cost of installation.
EPCs have received a bad press, mostly in the tabloids, as being a waste of time and money. In my opinion this is purely a typical case of jumping on a convenient bandwagon but I do admit that the industry hasn't done a very good job of explaining exactly what an EPC does and how it is supposed to be used by a potential purchaser or renter in order to get an appreciation of the potential running costs of the property they are considering. Consequently, as you will appreciate, it is very important that a DEA does not make any mistakes when surveying a property as such mistakes may well affect the evaluation and so the perception of its energy efficiency. Ultimately this has the potential to have financial implications.
The training I received to become a DEA took about nine months and involved attendance at four lecture courses at the college, learning all of the rules for surveying properties from a comprehensive and detailed manual, and then putting this all into practice with five or more actual surveys. These surveys have to be submitted to the experts who study the information gathered and the evaluation produced from the data in order to establish if the trainee has done it correctly and arrived at the right result.
The course is divided into four modules, covering not just the technicalities of how to evaluate properties but also covering the actual business of being a DEA. The modules cover the responsibilities of a DEA to his clients and to the industry. It covers the ethics of the role in terms of things like impartiality. It covers issues of safety; personal safety when carrying out surveys, safety of the occupants of the property whilst you are surveying it and safety of the property itself from accidental damage as a result of your activities.
Each module is followed by an multi-choice exam where the required pass-mark is 70%. Failure to achieve this pass-mark requires the exam to be retaken until it is. At the end of the course, when all of the college's exams have been passed, you then have to take another exam set by ABBE (Awarding Body for the Built Environment), the independent accreditation body for the industry, in order to demonstrate that the college has done its job in training you.
Just learning all of the skills is not all. In addition you have to write and submit for evaluation a number of documents that together effectively create a business plan for your job as a DEA. These cover such issues as how you intend to ensure the security of all of the data you will be gathering about your clients' properties, how you plan to solicit work once qualified and how you plan to keep your skills up-to-date with all the inevitable changes in the industry.
In order to carry out property surveys you are required to buy a whole range of equipment. These include such things as a folding ladder for accessing loft spaces, tape measures, binoculars for inspecting roofs and other external property features and a digital camera for evidence that you have correctly identified the relevant features of the property. You also have to provide for yourself protection equipment such as face masks (against dust and fibres), rubber gloves, overshoes (so as not to stain your client's carpets) and wellies for when carrying out external measurements in wet weather. The total cost for me came to several hundred pounds despite already having some of what I needed. This even before I had qualified!
I had to do seven surveys as I made silly mistakes on my first two, understandable perhaps as these were properties that had been organised by the college and these surveys were being carried out by half of the course attendees, about eight people, all at the same time and within strict time constraints. We got in each others way, forgot to take certain measurements, misunderstood what we were looking at and generally made quite a b***s-up. What these surveys did give us though was an appreciation of just how complex the whole exercise was. Where you made mistakes it fixed in your mind not to do it again.
The remaining properties I had to organise myself. This is where having family in the area is a big advantage; I don't have that luxury. I do have other contacts, fortunately, and they came up trumps. However, each was a particularly challenging survey, not in any way simple. Simple would have been good from the point of view of passing my qualification. Complex was good for helping me feel I could rise to any challenge. I got them all spot-on.
Finally, before obtaining my diploma, all of my work had to be evaluated by ABBE, my surveys and all of the other submissions related to my plans to carry out the job of a DEA. I passed and was awarded my diploma; a big day!
Now I had to become registered with one of the three organisations that are licensed by the Government to regulate the industry. I chose NHER (National Home Energy Rating) in Milton Keynes, as I was familiar with its computer software, that is used to turn the data collected during a survey into the EPC that represents the evaluation of that data. There are two other organisations and each has its own software system although all are supposed to produce exactly the same results.
There is a cost involved, both in initially registering with the organisation and also for renewing membership annually. In addition there is a cost for each survey entered into the system although part of the cost includes a fee to provide professional indemnity insurance. In return the organisation also provides support for its members where disputes arise between a DEA and his clients over surveys that have been carried out.
So, now I am qualified and registered. Now all I needed is some work. When I signed up with EAC I also signed an agreement with their sister organisation, Energy Assessments Direct (EAD) to accept up to 40 survey assignment per month from them for two years in return for them funding a third of my training costs. So far I have yet to receive even one!
Now, you will probably have realised, as I have, that the current financial climate is not exactly conducive to an abundance of work of this kind. I probably chose just about the worst possible time to enter this industry. Had I done so really needing this job in order to pay the mortgage, I would now be seriously worried. Fortunately I am not in that position. Many, many others are.
There does seems to have been a serious over-selling of this work and I am hearing rumours that there is a large over-supply of DEAs compared with the amount of work available. I hear that many trainees are simply giving up even after qualifying as they simply cannot make a living. This is very sad as they will have had to make a substantial outlay during training and it is unlikely that they will ever see any of that money back again.
I have a few ideas on ways of drumming up some work if EAD does not come up with the goods. In addition I have joined various groups, such as the Energy Assessors UK and domestic energy assessor groups on Facebook, EnergySmile.com and various DEA forums, just in order to be able to test the pulse of the industry.
However, I think that I'm just going to have to accept that the whole property industry is in decline at the moment and there is very little that anyone can do about it. In time I'm sure that the market will pick up again but in the meantime work opportunities are going to be few and far between.
It looks like I will be doing a fair bit more housework than I had anticipated. I know someone who's going to be VERY happy about that!
Update - Oct 2009
Well, just had my first ever work since I qualified. Looks like I was right, you're not going to make a living in this profession. It seems that all the local estate agents have either trained up their own staff to do surveys or else have exclusive arrangements with just one EPC/HIPS provider, and no one else can get a foot in the door.
It would also appear that the college with which I trained has gone into administration, which is an ominous sign. Looks like I won't be getting any work sourced by its sister company, not that I ever did anyway!
It will be interesting to see what the future holds but I'm not holding out much hope. I will be attending the annual conference in November so hope to get feedback from fellow DEAs on their experiences.