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HIPs headache

Jo Horsey
BBC South West

Home Information Pack c/o Getty images
HIPs: not taking account of cob built houses.
Housing Information Packs are creating a problem for the owners of houses in the South West which have been built using a traditional method.

Cob - subsoil mixed with clay and straw - was once a hugely popular building material in the South West. And it is enjoying a revival.

Environmentally friendly

Kevin McCabe, who specialises in making cob houses, says that cob could not be more environmentally friendly:

"It is of the local environment. It's well insulating and, because it's a thermal mass, it makes it very comfortable to live in."

New cob builds are, of course, still very rare and you are most likely to encounter cob in a historic village where, for centuries, it was the cheapest, most practical material to build houses with.

Verity Holdsworth owns one of the many ancient cob cottages which grace the village of Coffinswell near Newton Abbot.

She is currently trying to sell her house - though not because she has got anything against cob.

In fact she is another enthusiast who is now considering having a new house built from cob.

Bureaucratic problem

She told us that cob cannot be beaten: "Apart from all the natural character with curves and wonky ceilings - it's so lovely and warm in winter and lovely and cool in the summer."

As Verity has found out, selling a cob house creates a strange bureaucratic difficulty.

All houses for sale now need an Energy Performance Certificate.

Good news, you would think for cob owners - who all enthuse about its powers of insulation.

Well, not exactly.

We asked a Chartered Surveyor and qualified energy inspector, Ed Chamberlain, to run his professional eye over Verity's venerable walls.

Ed told us that at the moment completing the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) for a cob home like Verity's is very difficult.

The forms he has to fill in are very limited and do not include cob as a building material.

He has been advised to describe cob houses as sandstone - the nearest likeness to cob available on the form.

However, sandstone walls are at least a third less thick than cob walls.

Other inspectors told us they have been told to write granite - a particularly poor insulator.

Either way, cob is not granite OR sandstone. It is not even stone at all.

HIPs under review

Richard Copus, Verity's estate agent, deals with many other cob properties.

He says that, "Cob and thatch are the best types of insulation you can have, so to leave cob off really is devaluing a house wrongly."

All of the house inspection professionals we spoke to stressed that some aspects of the Home Information Packs are under review.

A spokesperson from the Department for Communities and Local Government issued this statement: "Currently cob is not one of the recognised wall types within the list of options available for producing an EPC.

"This is something which we are changing and new software which includes cob as a wall type will be on stream from October.

"The government introduced EPCs to provide people buying and selling homes with information about the property's energy efficiency and ways of improving this to reduce bills and help tackle climate change.

"The scheme has worked very well overall, but of course where specific problems arise we are committed to finding solutions."

For the time being, buyers may find that a document which is supposed to tell them more about their potential purchases is effectively telling them less than they knew in the first place.

The Politics Show for the South West, with Jon Sopel and Lucie Fisher on Sunday 04 May at 1200 BST on BBC One.

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