Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) became a legal requirement in October 2008 and every house and flat put up for sale or rent now needs one.

Where have they come from?

They were introduced by the government as a means of reducing the UK's carbon footprint - both by raising the profile of energy conservation and encouraging property owners to make their buildings more energy efficient.

Originally, they formed part of the Home Information Pack, but while this scheme has been scrapped, EPCs still remain.

This means that if you are planning on selling or renting out a house, a flat or any other residential property then you need to sort an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) first.

What do EPCs tell you?

Energy Performance Certificates are made up of 3 main components:

1. Information about how energy efficient your home is now.

2. A rating from A-G that quantifies your home's energy efficiency - A = very energy efficient, G = not energy efficient.

3. Details of what you can do to increase the energy efficiency of your home.

Because Energy Performance Certificiates must be put together by registered assessors they are all judged on the same scale. This means those looking to buy or rent a property can compare the energy efficiency - and therefore running costs - of your property directy with another.

So if you're moving you can tell whether a property you're interested in is energy efficient and determine what sort of impact that may have on your utility bills.

Similarly, if you're selling or letting, the EPC's recommendations may also give you some ideas as to what you can do to improve your home's appeal and value. With this, it's worth comparing the cost of any suggested improvements (such as insulating the loft) with the likely increase in your property's value.

It's worth noting that the average efficiency rating for residential properties in the UK is a 'D'. However, in terms of prospective buyer/renter appeal, it's a case of: the more energy efficient the property, the better.

How much do EPCs cost?

Energy Performance Certificates cost around 100, although the exact amount will vary depending on the size of your property and the company or individual that compiles it.

It's worth noting that this is an unavoidable cost as EPCs are only valid if they're compiled by an accredited energy assessor. Unfortunately, they're not something you can put together yourself.

What do you need to do to get one?

The first step to getting an EPC is finding an accredited energy assessor.

Landmark holds an EPC register on behalf of the government and you can use this to search for assessors that operate close to your home.

All you then need to do is contact an assessor to get a quote for your EPC.

It's really worth contacting several energy assessors before agreeing a price as each individual or company decides how much they will charge.

While the detail of the reports may vary, the Energy Performance Certificate they issue is an industry standard, so if you just need an EPC to sell your home it makes sense to search for the cheapest price.

What else do I need to know?

If you are buying or renting a new home, you should be provided you with a valid EPC. So before you sign any paperwork you should check that it's in date (an EPC is valid for 10 years from issue) and that you're happy with the information that the property entails.

If there is a particular issue, or the property has a particularly poor energy efficiency rating you may want to consider using this information as leverage to negotiate - either on the price you're paying, or on the work that needs doing before you move in.

If you have any doubts regarding the authenticity of the certificate then you can check its reference number on the top right hand side against the EPC register, which should then display a matching copy of the EPC.